Prompt 65

“Hickory dickory dock
The mouse ran up the clock
The clock struck one
The mouse ran down
Hickory dickory dock.”

He was cursed, this mouse was. His name was Remus. He lived in a hole in the wall, underneath the staircase of the Fairchild household, right across the room from the Fairchild grandfather clock that had been in the family for generations. He spent most of his time in his home glaring at the clock, hating it and the hold it had on him.

One day, when he was an adolescent rodent ruffian, he was scampering across the kitchen floor in look for crumbs that he could throw into his satchel and carry home for his lunch. He had scored a piece of gouda from under the table, a crumb of cracker under the north-facing chair, and was on the lookout for something to make it more savory like rosemary or a sprinkle or two of pepper. It wasn’t a good snack if it didn’t have some sort of flavoring, he always said. He spotted something green under the fridge and, hoping for at least a leaf of coriander, he rushed toward it, putting himself at risk by leaving the cover provided by the table.

He was just a few inches away from his bounty when a foot landed with a monstrous thud right in front of his nose. He stopped in shock and looked up to see old Grannie Fairchild starting to bend over so that she could pick him up. She moved slowly, as befitted her age, meticulously unfurling her ancient fingers as she reached toward him. Remus wanted desperately to move, to run away from this elderly giant, but he was rooted to the spot. The rumors must be true then, he thought nervously, Grannie Fairchild was indeed a witch!

He felt foolish now for having so readily dismissed the stories Sally the cockroach had told him. She had said that Grannie Fairchild had once cursed a fly to continually fly in circles around a bowl of fruit, never able to land on them and eat them. He died of exhaustion. There was another story, too, of when she had spotted a garden snake in the garden, poor old Larry, and she had banished him to a hole in the ground, unable to move. He had apparently died during the next storm, drowned by the rain. Remus hadn’t wanted to believe any of it. He had argued with Sally on every story, finding perfectly rational explanations for each of the things that had happened. The fly had gone mad and Larry had fallen into the hole and gotten stuck there.

Sally had actually disappeared from the house a few days ago. Remus had thought that she had perhaps ventured outside and had been eaten by a chicken, but now he wondered whether, perhaps, the witch had spotted her and also subjected her to some sort of awful curse.

Remus’ mind was occupied with all of this as the hand came nearer and the fingers, knobby and wrinkly, wrapped around his waist and gave him a little squeeze before the lady pulled herself back up.

“My, my,” Grannie Fairchild croaked. “What a fat little one you are. Have our wares been keeping you well fed then?”

Remus rested, still immobile, in her hand. Panic had taken a hold of his fast-beating heart and he knew not what to do.

“What sort of punishment can we give this little thief then?” she asked the air, or the voices in her head, as no one else was around. She was a finicky old witch, and didn’t like the trouble of actually killing the vermin that wandered around the house, that’s why she preferred long lasting curses that exhausted them to death instead.

The grandfather clock struck once, for it was that time in the afternoon. That seemed to inspire the old lady and, after a few seconds of deliberation, she began to chant:

“Hickory dickory dock,
At each hour on this clock
You will run up before the first dong
And descend after it’s sung its song
Hickory dickory dock.”

After singing the same verse precisely three times, she leaned over again and placed the mouse softly on the ground as she cackled to herself. Before Remus could try to decipher what had happened, he suddenly found his legs again and, with an urgency that made him forget about the need to make his snack savory, he rushed back home.

Once he was safe and had caught his breath, he let out a big laugh of his own. That woman wasn’t a witch! Just a crazy old lady. Sally had been making things up, surely. There’s no such thing as witchcraft. The only reason he hadn’t been able to move was just fear. Yes. There was no need to worry.

In his relief he remembered to be hungry. He fished the crumbs out of his satchel and scarfed them down. After all that excitement and the filling, albeit flavorless, meal, Remus was ready for a nap. He curled himself up in his nest of cotton balls and lint and closed his eyes. His rest was short-lived. In a snap, his eyes suddenly jumped open. He had a peculiar feeling coming from within him. It was as if there was a string attached to his rib cage and someone was giving it a strong pull. Unable to resist it, he was led swiftly out of his hole in the wall, past the staircase, and right towards the base of the grandfather clock. Remus looked up to the clock’s stern and imposing façade. He had always looked at it from afar and kept himself at a safe distance because he was terrified of the noise it made on every hour. The tugging did not stop there. It pulled him all the way up to the clock’s face and held him there, immobile once more.

Then, making a sound that shook Remus to his core and painfully overfilled his ears, the clock struck two. When the second clang’s vibrato had faded into the silence of the house, the invisible string disappeared, and Remus was released. He ran down and scurried back to his home.

This particular scene had taken place every hour since that fateful day. He was cursed, this mouse was. It didn’t matter which part of the house he was in as the minute hand was reaching twelve, he would suddenly feel that string reemerge and he would be pulled back up to the face of the clock to be subjected to the soul-wrenching clanging.

He had tried running away from the house; had tried jumping out a window; he’d even tried to kill himself in a mouse trap, but the curse had prevented all methods of escape. He was destined to live out the rest of his days running up and down that clock. That horrid Fairchild grandfather clock.

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