It had been two long weeks since Ashlynn had found Soren trapped beneath the bar of a mouse trap. Since then, it had taken every ounce of effort to gain Soren’s favor. Even after bandaging his wounds, splinting his leg, giving him food and a place to sleep, and agreeing to his terms and conditions, Soren still seemed hesitant.
Patience was never Ashlynn’s strong suit – and it still wasn’t, but it was beginning to pay off. Soren was talking more and started accompanying her to the kitchen. She was starting to sense the smallest inkling of trust was blooming between her and the tiny human from the walls.
Now, seeing him kneeling on the ground with another even smaller person cradled in his arms and her picking up on fragmented whispers of conversation, a pang of sadness overwhelmed her. Soren always seemed sure and intelligent – level-headed when presented with an emergency; even if he was cautious and visibly nervous. This was not what she saw when he turned to her.
There were tears in his eyes. There was a hurt and a primal fear, but not for himself – for someone dear to him. The look in his face conveyed uncertainty and desperation. It didn’t suit him.
“Ashlynn.” Soren’s voice was soft and threatening to crack. She could see he was barely keeping himself composed on behalf of his brother. “Please… save my little brothers.”
Those few, simple words were all it took to send her into action. Ashlynn nodded, a determination burning in her eyes. She stood abruptly, making the one called Dorian flinch and whimper. Ashlynn didn’t have time to worry about that and instead concerned herself with making sure Soren had the necessary tools to bandage his brother. She had to trust he could handle one while she endeavored to help the other.
She took a clean dishrag and cut it into small strips Soren could manage while running a bowl of fresh, warm water. She grabbed it, ensuring the water wasn’t too hot, and set them on the ground near Soren.
“You need to make sure his wounds are clean before bandaging them,” she said while keeping her voice low. Compared to Soren, she was doing a poor job of keeping her tone even and calm. She wanted to be sensitive to the situation, but it sounded like time was of the essence. “You said brothers. This is one of them, right? Where’s the other? I didn’t hear.”
Dorian whimpered again and pushed his face into Soren’s bandaged leg.
“S-s-so-ren,” he stammered. “Th-th-e human… w-what’s she gonna d-do to Rey? A-are we c-cap-captured?” Ashlynn felt the familiar frustration that she experienced when first earning Soren’s trust, but bit her tongue. [There’s time for this later.] She thought.
Soren’s arms engulfed his brother as he pressed his cheek on the top of his head. “No. No, we’re not captured. She’s going to save him. She’s going to get him back. It’s going to be okay.” Soren unconsciously grabbed a fragment of cut cloth that Ashlynn had placed hear him and began wiping away the snot and tears from Dorian’s face.
Soren turned back to Ashlynn, his breathing becoming more rapid. “The older woman in the apartment near from yours; somewhere over there.” Soren gestured in a broad sweeping motion toward the other apartments. “She has a cat. I… I don’t know her name, but Dorian said that’s where they were. He’s caught in a glue trap. Dorian, is there anything else you can tell me?” Dorian sniffed and grasped the cloth near his face.
“H-he wa-was wearing the other m-m-mouse pelt. I… I th-thought it would help, like what you taught me,” he sniffed, his voice losing strength.
“Dorian said he was wearing the mouse pelt, like the one I was wearing,” said Soren to Ashlynn.
“Okay, last thing. Is there something I can say to him that would help calm him down? Or maybe help him know I’m not going to hurt him?” asked Ashlynn, preparing to stand and head out. Soren shook his head, the stress of the situation making his shoulders tense and tremble.
“Just bring him back, please,” said Soren softly. That was all she needed.
Ashlynn stood and stepped around them carefully before snagging her keys from the counter and leaving the apartment.
Soren watched Ashlynn leave, his mind a mess of emotions. He could only hope that she was able to find his youngest sibling and bring him safely back. Dorian’s sniff brought him back to the present.
“Come on, I have to clean these,” muttered Soren as he tugged himself to his feet and guided Dorian to the strip of cloth and bowl of water where he removed Dorian’s shirt and began cleaning the wounds. To his surprise, Dorian resisted slightly and stared at him with some unspoken, unsure look.
“Wh…what happened to you? D…did the human do something to you?” he asked. Soren dipped the cloth into the water and continued to clean the wounds.
“She didn’t do anything to me. She was actually helping me get better so I could leave and find you,” he said stiffly, trying to shake away his thoughts and focus on his brother. Dorian shifted uncomfortably and winced as Soren took his arm and ran the cloth over it.
“Dad said you’d be different,” muttered Dorian, tears welling up in his eyes once again. Soren’s jaw clenched as his set-aside, festering hatred for Brady instantly resurfaced. “He said you would be more trusting of the humans and that you’d be tricked into luring us out of the walls like bait. I… didn’t want to believe it… but…” Dorian used his free arm and covered his face as he broke into another round of sobs.
“Dorian,” said Soren firmly, but kindly. “I haven’t changed. I had to improvise in order to survive.” Soren took a shaky breath before continuing. “You know, she let me go once already and I went back our camp in the walls. You were already gone, but she did let me go.” Dorian’s eyes peeked up from his arm to stare at his brother.
“Really?” he asked. Soren nodded. “But… what if it’s a trick?” Soren smiled reassuringly.
“No one tricks your older brother; and I promised to take care of you no matter what. I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough to go with you the first time. I promise that won’t happen again.”
Ashlynn was instantly hit with a burst of cold air as she threw the door open and stepped into the snowy exterior of the apartment complex. She knew exactly who Soren was referring to and made a beeline for her apartment.
Susan Bonmeyer, or Grandma Susie as she liked to say, was an elderly lady who lived on her own with her cat Jaida. She was useful when it came to mending and creating dresses and outfits and was always kind. It was hard to believe she would set up mouse traps of any kind, but she did have a grandson who came in town from time to time.
Ashlynn realized she had a problem just as she reached out and knocked at the door. Soren had always seemed adamant about keeping himself and whatever he was a secret. Ashlynn couldn’t hardly ask if Grandma Susie had seen any small people running around. Thinking of what she was going to say, she tapped at the door briskly. After a few seconds, the interior door swung open revealing Grandma Susie.
The wrinkles on her face curled into a smile and the crows’ feet by her eyes sent rippling wrinkles to her ears. She adjusted her thick rimmed spectacles as she opened the door and beckoned Ashlynn inside.
“Oh, hello Ashlynn. Come on in,” she said sweetly as she stepped to the side. Ashlynn stepped in after wiping her feet, grateful that the elderly woman’s apartment was saturated with heat which must’ve cost a fortune. “What a pleasant surprise. I was getting my cards ready for a game. Would you like to join me?” Her voice had an elderly timbre conveying a genuine, kind heart.
Ashlynn didn’t want to refuse, but time was certainly of the essence. “Hello Grandma Susie. I wish I could stay,” she said with an apologetic glance. “But I’m actually doing a favor for a friend. Um… this is kind of embarrassing.”
“Oh? Well, if there’s something I can do, just let me know. Is it something to do with… Jordan?” asked Grandma Susie. Hearing the name made her tense, but Ashlynn smiled instead.
“No. That’s over and done with. I---”
“Good. I know it hurts sweetie, but he was no good for you if I may be so bold to say,” interrupted Grandma Susie. Though there was truth to what Grandma Susie said, Ashlynn was dealing with far too many emotions as it was to be worrying about that jerk. She laughed nervously and shoved her hands in her pockets to occupy herself.
“Actually, no. He’s… out of the picture. My situation is this. My friend wanted me to watch his… mouse… and it managed to get loose. You haven’t seen any mice recently, have you?” asked Ashlynn. She watched with dread as Grandma Susie readjusted her glasses and nodded, a sad glimmer in her eye.
“Yes, actually. My grandson Peter, you remember Peter – tall, brown hair and eyes, marvelous singing voice – anyway, he noticed a few things out of place and helped set a few of those glue traps. I wanted things to be over and done with, but he insisted that this was more humane.” There was a hollowness to the elderly woman’s words which felt like a gut punch and made a sickening feeling rise in her throat.
“And?” prompted Ashlynn, unable to muster any more words.
“Well. I forgot they were there until Jaida was nosing around. Poor creature. The little thing already expired all stuck in the glue and everything. I’m so sorry.” Grandma Susie’s words could have brought Ashlynn to her knees. She felt her heart hollow as if the wind had been knocked out of her from a powerful fall.
[No. Oh gosh no. Is she just covering up? Did she not notice the legs? The hands? I… I have to bring him back at the very least.] Ashlynn cleared her throat, slightly shocked to find it so constrained.
“Do… well, I know this is an odd request, but what did you do with the body? I’d like to give him a proper burial.” asked Ashlynn, scrambling mentally on how she was going to tell Soren. Grandma Susie readjusted her glasses awkwardly and pointed to the garage.
“I wrapped it up in a grocery sack and threw it in the bin outside. I wanted to get it taken care of before the trash ran. Really, I’m so sorry sweetie. I wish I’d have known.” Ashlynn felt her stomach drop. [That’s right. It’s trash day. It’s freezing outside and it’s trash day.] Ashlynn glanced back toward the door.
“It’s okay. Umm… I’m sorry, but I do have to go grab him before the trash runs. Thank you so much Grandma Susie,” said Ashlynn. She heard Grandma Susie saying her good-byes as Ashlynn whisked herself outside into the frigid air. She skidded a few times, but caught herself mid-slide as she hurried to the trash cans. She prayed silently nothing would be on top of the bag.
Sure enough, the trashcans were there at the end of the driveway. She rushed forward, braced herself, and threw the lid off. Sure enough, there was a small tied grocery sack right on top. Ashlynn had to check. She had to know what to tell Soren.
Dread filling her and bringing a sick bile in the back of her throat, Ashlynn reached forward and tugged the tie open.
There, at the bottom of the bag, was a glue trap with a small figure attached to it. At first glance, it did look like a mouse; however, another glance revealed two small legs and hands poking out from beneath the mouse pelt. The figure was holding eerily still.
Ashlynn remembered Soren’s rule about touching and holding him, but surely holding the trap wasn’t the same as holding them directly. She reached into the bag and pulled the trap from the plastic bag, then held it near her face. No movement.
Ashlynn’s heart ached terribly in her chest staring at the small figure when she noticed something. It was almost lost to her eyes – the slightest movement from the head. She inspected closer, now noticing how the face of the mouse pelt was folded and pressed into the glue. It made a perfect pocket for someone’s head. Then she heard it – a soft whimper.
Rey was alive.
She could have leapt for joy if she weren’t apprehensive about slipping on the ice or jostling the injured tiny person. Ashlynn closed the trashcan lid and held the glue trap close. There were now more audible sobs coming from the trap in her hand. [Speaking to him might make it worse, but I can’t just let him think he’s going to get hurt.]
“Rey? It’s okay. You’re going to be okay. I’m taking you to Soren.” As expected, Ashlynn heard more powerful sobs coming from Rey and saw him starting to struggle in the glue; but his entire front was stuck to the trap as if he had fallen face first into the adhesive. [This is going to be another long night.]
With that, Ashlynn began carefully walking back to her apartment as quickly as she dared with her sobbing rescue to the safety of her apartment.