Authors: David Farland
Tags: #Fantasy, #lds, #mormon
Cover and interior illustrations © Howard Lyon.
Cover and book design by Jessica A. Warner © 2007 by Covenant Communications, Inc.
Published by Covenant Communications, Inc.
American Fork, Utah
Copyright © 2007 by David Farland
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any format or in any medium without the written permission of the publisher, Covenant Communications, Inc., P.O. Box 416, American Fork, UT 84003. The views expressed within this work are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Covenant Communications, Inc., or any other entity.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, places, and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination, and are not to be construed as real.
First Printing: April 2007
For Ben Wolverton
ATTACK OF THE KILLER FLEAS
Don’t let little things bother you.
All you have to do is wait for a while,
and life will hand you some real problems.
—BUSHMASTER THE VOLE
Sometimes flocks of fleas attacked in great black clouds that darkened the sky.
“Help!” a mouse cried as it raced down a trail, diving beneath a patch of dried thistles. “Fleas! Fleas are after me!”
Dread knotted Amber’s gut. She whirled as the newcomer hopped between two rocks, his tail catching in some brambles, his tongue hanging out as he panted. His name was Thorn. He was the dumbest mouse that Amber had ever seen, a real embarrassment to his species.
“Fleas?” Amber cried. She had never seen a flea before, but she had heard legends. Fleas were bloodthirsty monsters with supernatural powers. Their teeth were sharper than diamonds, and their skin was as hard as granite. They could jump three hundred times their height and walk through solid walls—all in an effort to get to poor, defenseless mice. It was said that a flea would suck blood from a mouse until it was drier than dust, and then the flea would pull out the mouse’s eyes and use them for juggling balls.
Sometimes flocks of fleas attacked in great black clouds that darkened the sky.
As a kitten mouse, when older mice sat around the food pellets telling tales, Amber had often gone to sleep quivering, afraid that in the morning, all that anyone would find of her would be her pitiful, mummified corpse.
Now Amber and Ben were in Ben’s backyard, where Ben was teaching the mice the fine art of dumpster diving. The mice had made grappling devices out of fishhooks and were trying to throw their fishing lines up over the lip of the garbage can so that they could climb in.
Upon hearing cries of “Fleas!” the mice turned to Amber. She was a wizard, after all, and Ben was her familiar, the source of her magical power. Together they made two halves of a powerful wizard, though apart they were just vermin.
But right now, Amber was completely drained. She’d used all of her magical energy fighting the evil sorcerer bat Nightwing. She could tell that she was out of power by a strange sensation that she’d only noticed yesterday—her tail felt abnormally heavy and numb, as if she were dragging around a rubbery carrot.
“Wait a minute,” Amber warned the mice at the garbage can. “Just wait. We can’t be sure that there really is a flea—until we see it!”
She peered along the path Thorn was traveling. Low mist clung to the morning ground. Amber couldn’t see more than thirty feet.
Thorn came leaping over a stone and spotted an enormous pink night crawler that oozed along the ground leaving a trail of snot. He leapt over it at the last instant, shouting, “Snakes!”
He raced the last few feet and fell at Amber’s knees, quivering like Jell-O.
“Fleas!” he cried. “They attacked the burrow. There are three of them!”
Thorn smelled bad. Amber turned her nose up and tried to keep from inhaling. “Are you sure that it isn’t flies that are chasing you?” Amber asked. “Some of them do bite, you know.”
“I don’t see any fleas,” Ben said, peering back through the mist and thistles, totally fearless. He stood with chiseled features, gripping a spear made from a sewing needle, gazing into the gray fog. Benjamin Ravenspell had been a human until last week. Now he was the handsomest mouse that Amber had ever seen, so handsome it made her knees weak. He was also perhaps the bravest and wisest mouse of all time.
“The fleas are coming!” Thorn whimpered. “They’re killing everything in their path, wiping out whole burrows!”
Ben strode forward a pace. His fur was sleek, a dark brown along the back but reddish along the sides. He had the large feet of a Pacific jumping mouse. On his head he wore a walnut shell as a helmet, carved so that it looked like the skull of some frightful beast.
He sniffed the mist, and everything seemed to go unnaturally quiet. Amber’s heart kept pounding in her chest, and she stilled her breathing in an effort to hear.
But all that she heard was the slight rustling of dry leaves in the wind, and all that she saw was gray-brown thistle stalks rising up above the new grass.
Suddenly, from the shadows, she heard a gravelly voice call out, cold and heartless and gleeful all at once, “We’re heeere!”
Amber’s knees began shaking, and she saw the flea—as black as sin. It came hopping from the fog, the weak morning sunlight making its back glisten. It hopped incredibly high—bounding over rocks, springing up between thistle leaves, jumping far higher than a mouse’s head.
Amber could see blood on its teeth, the gore of its last unfortunate victim.
“Run!” Amber screamed, for it was all she could think to do.
Amber careened past the garbage cans. The rest of the mice followed in a thundering herd, struggling to keep up.
The fleas laughed cruelly, growling like lions on the hunt, and gave chase. “You can run, but you can’t hide!” a flea shouted.
Amber dove through a hole under the fence into Mrs. Pumpernickel’s backyard.
“Your blood will be mine!” a flea growled, then broke into a fit of cruel laughter.
Amber crossed under the fence and heard a hissing sound to her left. Mrs. Pumpernickel’s sprinklers were coming on at exactly the same time that they’d come on yesterday. To the right was a gate that led to the front yard, and the house blocked the path ahead.
“Go left!” Ben shouted. “Fleas
Amber shivered. She’d been caught under that sprinkler yesterday, and she still felt a chill. But she lunged to the left, a dozen well-armed mice trampling on her tail, and flung herself into the pansy patch beneath the sprinklers. Huge white pansies sprawled overhead, their purple centers looking like strange animal faces.
Ben and the other mice all huddled around her, panting in fear, water drizzling over their heads.
At the edge of the lawn, the three fleas stalked toward them. The fleas hopped up and down with excitement.
“Stand and deliver!” one flea shouted. “Give us your blood, and we’ll spare your miserable lives!”
But the fleas didn’t advance. Instead, their leader kept hopping, peering this way and that, giving worried looks at the water. “You can’t stay there forever!” he shouted. “The sprinklers will go off, and then I’m going to suck you drier than a raisin!”
Amber trembled with fear. Or maybe it was the cold water dribbling all over her. She peered up forlornly and said to Ben, “Well, this is
fine mist you’ve gotten us into!”
“It’s not my fault,” Ben said. He’d been leading a raid on Mrs. Pumpernickel’s garbage can yesterday when the sprinklers turned on. Amber had never wanted to repeat that miserable experience.
The mice huddled closer now, trying to keep warm, afraid that the sprinklers would go off, not sure what to do. One mouse shouted, “I know, let’s stab the fleas!”
Amber considered it, but the monstrous fleas moved so quickly, she wasn’t sure that she could stab them with her spear. And she sure didn’t want to try stabbing a flea after it had already latched onto her back.
She was tempted to try a spell no matter what Lady Blackpool said. Lady Blackpool, a sorcerous shrew, knew a great deal about magic. She’d warned Amber not to try casting another spell for a couple of days.
But maybe I could do it, Amber thought. I could cast one last spell before I die, saving all of the other mice. I’d be dead, but I’d be a hero.
She looked at the mice around her, friends that she had only begun to learn to love in her short life, and tears filled her eyes. She tried to think of some last words to say, some final farewell.
But just then, to Amber’s immense relief, she heard Lady Blackpool’s voice coming out of the mist.
Mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and lice:
Suck not this shrew. Bite not these mice.
Turn away from your treacherous path,
Or else you’ll suffer this wizard’s wrath!
The shrew appeared from the mist behind the fleas, limping slightly on arthritic feet, walking quietly, without fear.
The fleas whirled toward Lady Blackpool, eyeing her hungrily. “Look, boys,” their leader said. “Fresh meat!”
As one they sprang, bloodlust shining from their faceted eyes.
Lady Blackpool sat up on her back feet, her little white chest blazing in the sun, and quietly raised a paw.
Suddenly, all three fleas burst into flame in midair. Their hard, little black shells exploded with a pop, then oily smoke hung in the sky where they had been.
Amber watched for a second, relief flooding through her, as suddenly she heard more pops. Bright lights flashed like fiery flowers in shades of purple, tangerine, and lemon. A Sousa march began playing, trombones and drums seeming to thunder out of the pansies as if they were overhead speakers.
Lady Blackpool had turned the fleas into a fireworks show!
“Hooray!” the mice cried. “We’re saved! We’re saved!”
Lady Blackpool liked to act as if she hated other animals, but now she smiled and bowed for the applause.
She waved a paw. The sprinklers turned off, and she took tiny hops over the mown grass. When she reached Amber, Lady Blackpool took her own short tail in both front paws and twisted it, wringing water from it as if it were a rag.
She spotted a small slug, snapped it up and swallowed it in one gulp.
“Nasty fleas,” Lady Blackpool said. “A curse on all of them. The Master of Field and Fen must have been in a weird mood when he created them. What was he thinking? I’ll never know.”
That’s when an idea hit Amber. Ever since she and Ben had freed the mice from the pet shop, she’d been worried about them. The mice were naïve. They’d been told all of their lives that the world beyond the pet shop was a paradise. Their parents had called it the Endless Meadow, and told how life there was rich and easy. Fruit grew on every vine, and all you had to do to get a plump piece of grain was shake the nearest wheat stalk.
Whoever had made up the legends had forgotten to mention things like hawks and fleas. Life outside the pet shop was turning out to be bleaker than Amber could have imagined.
But I could change all of that, Amber thought. I have great magical powers, and Ben has lived for ten whole years! He is ancient and wise beyond the understanding of common mice. With his help, I could do anything!
“Ben,” Amber said, shouting in rising excitement. Her head felt like it was going to explode. She had an idea, and it felt like a revelation. “Ben,” Amber panted, “I just had this
Ben looked at her curiously, and all of the mice gathered around. For mice, as you know, don’t have more than a few brain cells to knock together, and rarely have ideas at all—much less “great” ideas.
“What is it?” Ben asked.
“Let’s take over the world!” Amber shouted, her heart thumping with excitement. “We can—we can make it safe for mice! We can get rid of all of the weasels and snakes and fleas. We can turn it into an Endless Meadow, just like in the legends!”
The mice drew back in astonishment. It was indeed a large idea, and so very unmouselike.
“Are you sure you want to try that?” Lady Blackpool asked. “The world is an enormous place, full of vile creatures with malevolent intent. Someone is bound to object.”
Amber wasn’t sure. She waited to hear Ben’s thoughts on her idea. He was the wise one.
Ben thought for a long moment, and then said, “Okay, I’ll help. But only under one condition: once we take over the world, I get to be the Dark Lord of Disneyland.”