Sabi wandered through the long grasses, skirting around enormous trees that gave plenty of shade and even better cover from predators. Her mother had taught her long ago not to meander out in the open or you may find yourself soaring above the clouds on the way to someone’s dinner table. In fact, it was common practice in the whole colony to use birds as a threat when small ones were not doing what they were told. Not eating your clover? An owl will eat you. Don’t want to sweep your shed fur out of the den? A hawk will make you its dinner.
Quite frankly, Sabi thought that the realistic threat of predators was scary enough without added child nightmares attached, thank you very much.
The small mouse kept her ears pricked and her nose scented to the wind, all senses on high alert. She had never gone this far from the nest on her own before, but her mother had decided she was old enough to be sent on her first assignment: gathering wild dandelion seeds to store for winter. Sabi had been so excited to be given such an important task she had nearly burst with pride, grabbing one of the small baskets and rushing towards the den entrance. However her mother had stopped her before she could go out into the day. Sabi remembered her lecture exactly.
“Make sure to check both ways before crossing any paths. Predators usually don’t hunt in the middle of the day but you never know with snakes and the odd weasel. Keep your ears alert and your eyes open and check the branches above every once in a while to make sure no birds are sneaking up on you. Robins and other songbirds aren’t overly dangerous, just aggressive, but if you see a hawk dive into the nearest hole and stay there until it moves on.”
Talk about overloading and petrifying a young mouse all at once! But Sabi had taken it in stride, returning her mother’s hug before venturing out into the open. Now she was glad she had been given the reminders, though, staring up into the branches for a moment. No birds. Nodding in satisfaction she hurried on to her destination. Besides passing a few caterpillars and one extremely busy chipmunk who rushed up a tree nearby, Sabi found herself quite alone as she trundled to her destination. It was both freeing and terrifying to know.
Sooner than she cared to admit, she found herself approaching the dandelion patch. Soft cottony blooms wafted gently in the wind, some of the odd seeds breaking off and floating away to spread elsewhere. She had to pick them before they all blew away so Sabi hurriedly scooted herself up one of the stems. She settled into the billowy flower, relishing the feeling of sitting on a cloud for a moment. That was always the part of the story that had never frightened her: flying above the clouds. She was envious that birds got to enjoy such a spectacle on a daily basis.
Realizing she was daydreaming, Sabi quickly began picking the seeds and placing them in her basket. Checking the sky occasionally, the small mouse made sure to keep herself inconspicuous while gathering her bounty. Without anyone interrupting her or stealing her away to do other projects it took her almost no time at all to fill the basket, with plenty of seeds still left on the flower to come gather tomorrow. Extremely pleased with herself, Sabi glanced around once more before scuttling back to the earth.
Hurrying back to the shadows of a large oak tree, Sabi sat down and leaned against the trunk with a big sigh. She wasn’t ready to go home yet, but she didn’t want to be gone too long from the colony and worry her mother. Pricking her ears, she realized that she could hear a small trickle nearby. Figuring she had time to go and find the water source before she would be missed the young mouse gathered her basket and followed the gurgling sounds from the water. The grass became less dense as the noise grew louder and, before she knew it, she stepped out into full sunlight.
Blinking in surprise from the sudden brightness, Sabi let her eyes adjust before looking around her surroundings. It appeared to be a small creek, with rocks sticking up out of the swift-flowing water. Sniffing the air the young rodent could smell the moisture and mud in the air. Glancing both ways down the shore, she found paw prints of all types, including other mice, chipmunks, deer and what appeared to be an otter. However, she also noticed fox and weasel prints mixed in, making her fur stand up on the back of her neck. Better not spend too long here.
However, as she turned to go back, sunlight glinted off something resting on the bank. Curious, Sabi nearly dashed over to the object before remembering the rules. Crouching down she looked all around twice before venturing over to the object. Half-buried in the mud was something that sparkled as the sun’s rays beat down on it. Gently prying it from the earth, she brought it over to the water to rinse off the excess muck still on it. Tiny minnows and tadpoles swam away in panic as her paws dipped beneath the surface into the cool liquid. Using a bit of moss to help scrub the object, once it was clean she lifted it out of the water to look at it better.
It appeared to be some sort of stone, both clear and green at once, with its multi-faceted surface fitting snugly in her paws. It was odd to see something that wasn’t round or randomly shaped like the rocks she was used to. Whatever this stone was also heavier than a regular pebble of the same size. But the most bizarre thing was when the sun hit it, rainbows seemed to sprout in all directions, including on her fur. Gasping slightly, she placed the object in shadow and the rainbows disappeared, no matter how she turned it. Placing it in the sun again, the rainbows reappeared, bright and cheery in all directions.
Letting out a small squeak of amazement, she rushed back to where she had left her basket to put the odd stone in there. However, when she got back into the grasses she found that her basket had been knocked over. Suddenly on the alert, she held her breath and slowly twisted her ears about, trying to catch any sound. Scenting the wind she could tell someone else was nearby, though her untrained senses couldn’t make out who or what it was. Anxiety started to creep into her body, which she tried to tamp down so she didn’t panic.
“H-hello?” She asked quietly, hoping that whoever was out there was a friend.
Her hopes were quickly dashed as, not more than twenty paces away, the brown face of a weasel poked out of the grasses. A crude smile crossed his face as a long, lithe body came out into the open. Sharp fangs gleamed in the sunlight as small but powerful paws began creeping towards her. “Hello, little one.” He stated calmly, though a predatory growl was low in his throat. “Do you happen to have any dinner plans?”
Too terrified to speak, Sabi backed away slowly, not wanting to attract more attention. However, the weasel guessed what she was trying to do and dove into the grasses, hiding himself in the vegetation. Whiskers trembling, Sabi retreated to the water’s edge to enable her to see when the predator was coming. She could hear him rustling but in her panic it seemed to be coming from everywhere at once. Her paws became a death grip around the odd stone, as if that alone could save her. Maybe if she threw it that would distract the weasel, but she highly doubted such a master hunter would fall for such a simple tactic.
Suddenly, the rustling increased in volume and the weasel appeared again at a full dash. Letting out a high-pitched squeak, Sabi did the only thing she could think of: she dove into the water. Rushing to where the water ran deeper, she flung herself into it, her head disappearing under the surface within a moment. Kicking strongly, Sabi broke the surface and took a huge breath. Turning about frantically she didn’t see the weasel anywhere…but she also had no idea where she was heading. Her head bobbed under the water again and she kicked towards the near bank in a feeble attempt to reach the shore again. Fish and frogs swam by, uncaring and unwilling (or unable) to help her.
Continuing with this method, taking huge gulps of air when she did surface, Sabi finally found her paws resting against a soft-feeling bottom. Using the last bit of her strength, she forced herself to wade out of the fast current. Gasping for breath, she collapsed on the now sandy bank. Amazingly, the odd stone was still in her hands, the water dripping off of it back into the creek. Glancing around, the small mouse felt her heart sink as she didn’t recognize any of the landmarks nearby, even as she realized that the weasel was no longer around either. Even if she wasn’t going to get eaten, now she was lost! She could always follow the water back to where she left her basket, but she had no idea how far away that was. If she didn’t reach the area before nightfall, then she would be easy picking for an owl or a fox.
Setting the stone on the ground next to her, the small mouse huddled into a small ball and began to cry. If she hadn’t been so eager to be on her own she could be back at the colony with her mother and the rest of her family, safe and sound. Wiping tears from her eyes, she tried to see the positives of her situation but right now, she couldn’t think of any. Burying her head into her hands, she didn’t notice the rainbows that appeared as the sun shone off the odd stone…or the shadow that passed over her. Sniffling, Sabi was trying to pull herself together when a melodious voice intruded on her sorrow.
“Excuse me, little one? Is that shiny stone yours?”
Gasping slightly and almost giving herself the hiccups, Sabi jumped and looked up. Standing above her was a giant black bird, head tilted to one side. Her dark brown eyes appeared almost black above her dull orange beak. Gray feet gripped the ground gently, the razor sharp talons digging small furrows in the sand. Sabi felt her heart stop for a moment, figuring she had escaped one hunter to meet her demise at the wings of another. All of the scary stories she’d even been told about birds came flying to the forefront of her mind, causing her to freeze in place.
“Ummm…Miss?” The crow asked again, her voice lilting and polite. “Are you alright?”
It slowly dawned on Sabi that the crow was not here to eat her. In fact, once she wiped her tears away and looked into the bird’s eyes, she saw that there was no malice there. On the contrary, she actually seemed to be concerned about Sabi and her problems. Gulping slightly, the small rodent stood up and pointed up the river. “I was being hunted, so I jumped in the water. Then I got swept downstream and now I don’t know how to get home.”
The bird slumped slightly, her wings unfolding a bit. “Oh, sweetie, I’m sorry to hear that.” She glanced over at the odd stone for a moment before returning her gaze to Sabi. “Do you know any distinguishing landmarks near your home?”
Sabi nodded briskly, her fear of birds all but forgotten by the crow’s polite nature. “Yes, there’s a five-topped oak and a three-topped elm nearby. Oh! And a fallen willow tree. Our colony isn’t too far from the roots.”
“Ahh, I see.” The crow clacked her beak together, eying the stone again. “Tell you what. If you trade me the shiny stone then I can bring you home. I know where that is.” She pointed a wing in the general direction that Sabi knew her home was. “Deal?”
“Deal.” Sabi stated quickly, willing to give anything to get back home. “But umm..how do you plan to do that?”
In answer, the large bird nestled herself onto the ground and nodded her head towards her back. Sabi’s eyes widened and she gasped slightly, her heart beating faster. Was this really happening? Could it be true? Moving forward slowly, the crow unfurled a wing, allowing the small mouse a ramp to get to her back. Delighted, Sabi gently but firmly climbed onto the bird’s back and grabbed a pawful of feathers. Standing back up again, the crow carefully walked over to the stone and gently grabbed it in her talons before turning to Sabi. “Are you all set? Got a good hold?”
Sabi nodded and suddenly the crow was flapping her wings hard, getting them airborne within seconds. The young rodent let out a squeak of excitement as they rose above the grasses, above the stones, even above the trees. Peering around at the vast expanse of empty air around her, she nearly whooped with delight at the wind blowing in her face and the wisps of cloud floating around her. Even the setting sun seemed so much larger and brighter up here. It was everything she had hoped for and all that she had imagined. However, one glance towards the earth made her realize that she should look to the side and not down. That was still terrifying!
All too soon, she saw the trees that she had mentioned, along with the small clearing that the crow was heading towards. Her colony was only a skip away from there and, as they gently drifted towards the ground, she could even see some of the colonists scurrying about. Bravely, she waved down at them, but the large bird had caused everyone to run into hiding… except one. Her mother, her face contorted in worry, stared in shocked fascination as the crow and mouse landed. As soon as Sabi scampered back down the outstretched wing she found herself in her mother’s embrace.
“SABI!” She cried, nearly squeezing her ribs to pieces. “Where have you been?! I’ve been so worried!” Before Sabi could reply, however, her mother turned and bowed to the large crow. “Thank you for bringing my daughter home…”
“Sidian.” The crow replied, clacking her beak in appreciation.
“Sidian. Thank you for bringing her back.” Her mother boldly reached out and pat the large birds talons.
“I can’t turn away a young one crying, now, can I?” Sidian answered. Then she held up the odd stone. “Plus she pays well. Be careful out there.” She flapped her wings to get airborne again, circling around once she found a decent air current. “But if you ever find anything else shiny, don’t hesitate to call.”
As Sidian flew away, Sabi felt herself crushed in her mother’s embrace. “Sabi, Sabi. Where have you been?”
“Oh Mother,” Sabi stated, fiercely hugging her back before they began heading into the nest. “Have I got a story to tell you.”
My name is Heather Glover and I am a 32 year old woman living with MS. I am currently querying a full-length YA fantasy manuscript and was published several years ago in the All-American Writers journal. I was also part of the query-matching team for Camp RevPit during spring 2020.