Saturday, August 21, 2004

Featured Story

Mouse Prayers
by Shane Stewart
copyright (c) 2004 by Shane Stewart

“You pray like a mouse.”

My eyes snapped open. Above me the ceiling was a shadowy blur, and faint starlight crept in through the window near my head. I reached up and rubbed my forehead as the words faded in my ears.


The voice was small, but insistent. I lifted from the pillow slightly and shook my head, knocking loose the cobwebs in my brain. I glanced over toward the clock.

“Yo, dude. Down here.”

A shadow moved slightly on my nightstand. I turned my head slowly, and came face to nose with a small gray and brown rodent. “Uh…excuse me?”

“You pray like a mouse,” the mouse said.

I had to stop at this point to blink my eyes several times before I began the prerequisite stating of the obvious. “You’re a mouse.”

The little snout nodded. “How very kind of you to notice.”

“I’ve got three cats. You should be hiding behind the wall somewhere.”

“Please,” the mouse scoffed. “One of your so called cats only moves when compelled to by specific biological needs. Of the two that move, the smaller one is more likely to move away from me than to give chase. The big one, I’ll grant you, would chase me, but she wouldn’t have much of an idea of what to do with me if she caught me. She doesn’t even chase crumbs from your plate. I think I’m quite safe, thank you. Especially considering that –“

“I’m dreaming.”

The mouse paused, and twisted his head quizzically. “I was going to say I’m dreaming, not you.”

“But you speak English. You’re speaking it now.”

“No, I’m speaking Rodentii. Just like you.”

“But…I’m not.”

The mouse sat back on his haunches and folded his forepaws under his chin. “We can safely say that one of us is dreaming.”

“Yes,” I said. “At least.”

“At least?”

“Well, we could both be dreaming.”

“So, I’m curled up in my nest dreaming of you, and you’re lying on your bed dreaming of me?”

I nodded.

The mouse shrugged. “I suppose it makes more sense than a human speaking Rodentii.”

“I can’t really argue with that.” I propped myself up on my elbow, lifting my head further from the pillow. “Now, then, what were you saying?”

“You pray like a mouse.”

I considered those words for a moment. “I’m not sure I follow you.”

The mouse curled his tail around his feet and rocked back on his haunches, his belly round and tight. “I’m saying that you pray in a similar pattern to the way I do. I am a mouse. Therefore, you pray like a mouse.”


“You still seem confused.”

“Admittedly, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that mice pray.”

“So…what? You think humans have a monopoly on Heaven and God?”

“Well, no, I suppose I don’t.”

“You suppose you don’t?”

“I’ve never really thought about it before.”

The mouse sighed. “All things began somewhere, dirt, trees, sun, humans, mice, cats, dogs – we all had to start somewhere. For mice, and most civilized animals I’ve had the chance to speak to, that’s God.”

I nodded. “I suppose animals wouldn’t have much room to consider evolution.”

“Consider what?”

“Evolution. It’s the idea that we’ve been changing as the years and centuries have gone by, becoming better adapted for life and survival. Humans originally were a lot like monkeys and apes.”

“I see. And why would we consider this?”

I shrugged. “Some people think it’s a more logical and scientific explanation for why and how we got here.”

“So how do they explain why I’m here?”

“You evolved from a prehistoric rodent, probably one that was bigger than you are now and adapted to living in smaller spaces.”

The mouse nodded slowly. “So my mother has nothing to do with it?”

“I think you miss the point.”

“I think you complicate the point needlessly. What does it matter whether you used to be an ape or you just sprang up with a snap of God’s fingers?”

“Well, it – “

“If you people used to be apes, then God decided to let you lose hair and learn to speak. If you were created instantly, God did that for some reasons of His own, right?”

“That makes sense.”

“So what does it really matter?”

I shrugged. “We’re curious.”

The mouse cocked his head to either side. “You’re not a bunch of cats.”

“That doesn’t mean we can’t be curious.”

The mouse huffed. “Curiosity tends to complicate things.”

“That I can’t argue,” I said. “So, you were saying?”

“Huh? Oh, right.” The mouse cleared his throat. “Anyway, all the civilized animals I’ve been able to talk to share the same general idea – the first of our respective breeds were created by a semi benevolent divine being, or God if you prefer.”

“Semi benevolent?

“I talk to a lot of prey. You can probably guess why.”

“Oh. Right.”

“All of us believe God exists, but we can’t really agree on what God looks like. I tend to think of Him as a large mouse, but moles think He’s this big mole that drops worms behind Him as He digs through the Earth. Squirrels think He’s this acrobatic fuzzy tailed nut dropping maniac. Rat’s imagine a big rat, naturally. Songbirds are a little more unified in their image. To them, God is a songbird with one feather from each type of songbird in His coat. They tend to argue about whose feathers are where, though – no one wants to claim to be the tail feathers, for example.”

“Of course. What about dogs? Have you talked with them any?”

The mouse snorted. “Dogs, for reasons most of the rest of us can’t fathom, think He looks like a human.”

“Maybe it’s that whole ‘mans best friend’ thing.”

“Bunch of four legged kissups, the lot of them, if you ask me,” the mouse grumbled. “Anyway, along with differing ideas of what God looks like, we have differing ways that we pray to Him. Moles pause in their tunnels at the same time every day and spend several minutes saying thank you – for the dirt, for the roots, for the worms, for the water – and then toss on a half hearted request for eyes that work at the end. They don’t expect to ever get eyes that work, but one of their oldest stories says that the first mole prayed for dirt, water, roots, and worms and got them, so they request eyes just in case.”

“Rat’s probably only pray when they’re about to die.”

“Actually no. Rats have one of the most formalized prayer structures I’ve ever seen. Rat prayers are long processes, where every request they make is accompanied by as many requests for safety and protection that they can think of. I heard of a rat that was hungry and started praying for food one morning, and by the time he finished his prayer and left to find something, it was long after the sun had gone down. You’re thinking squirrels. They run around so much that they barely remember to pray, until they’re about to die or hibernate.”

“I see. And songbirds?”

“They start sometime after sunup and stop right around sundown, usually. They do a lot of group prayer, all perched up in the trees and on roofs and wires and stuff. Every bird doesn’t pray all day long of course – they tend to trade off from time to time.”

“What do they pray for?”

“Mostly that their feathers are always bright and they can always sing. Dogs pray when the thought strikes them, and usually they pray that their human will play with them, or feed them, or pet them, or come home, or some other silly thing like that.”

I nodded. “And I gather you’ve listened to a few human prayers, otherwise you wouldn’t be telling me I pray like a mouse.”

“I have heard some human prayers. I’ve not been terribly impressed. Most of them I’ve heard are asking for things – money comes up a lot. I’ve heard some people that pray like rats, too, very careful and plotted and trying to get something without having to do anything for it. I’ve heard people that pray like moles, throwing on a request that’s pretty significant at the end of a string of gratitude. I’ve heard a lot of people asking for peace – but in the walls, peace is something you work for, not ask to be given. You, though…”

The mouse sat back on his haunches, and his tail twitched slowly. “When I’m about to go somewhere even slightly dangerous, or when I go to sleep, that’s when I pray. Know what I pray for?”

I shook my head,.

“I ask Him to watch over the nest while I’m gone. To keep my little ones safe, and my mate, and a couple of mice that I know and like pretty well. I pray that they’ll be safe, and protected, should I not make it back, or not wake up. I’ve checked with the other mice – and that’s how most of them pray to. We don’t ask for something we can’t have. We just ask that those important to us be kept safe.” He looked up at me, looking in the eye as best as he could. “I have never heard a human pray that way until tonight.”

“I think it depends on the human, honestly. I know a few that pray the way I do.”

The mouse nodded. “It might just be me, but I think anyone who prays like a mouse is…ah…”

“Good people?”

The mouse thought a moment, then nodded. “Yeah.”

I smiled. “Thanks, little guy.”

“You’re welcome.” The mouse dropped to all fours and looked up at me. “Well, that’s all I had to say. Sorry to wake you.”

“It’s ok.” I watched him start to crawl down the nightstand. “Hey.”


“I can leave some food out in the morning, if you want.”

“That would be nice. If it’s not to much trouble.”

“Not at all. I think there’s some cheese in the fridge.”

“Ugh. Cheese gives me the runs.”

I stifled a chuckle. “A couple of grapes?”

“Awfully wet.”

I nodded. “A cracker or two?”

“That would be perfect!” the mouse said.

“Crackers it is, then. Goodnight.”

“Sleep well.”

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