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art by Wi Waffles

Squeak

Emma is a writer and poet proudly living in Melbourne, Australia. She has studied professional writing and literature and has found publication in various journals and zines, including Deakin University’s Verandah and the Sci-Fi poetry magazine Star*Line, though this is her first professional sale. She is delighted that you’re reading and is grinning widely as a result. Emma edits poetry for Scapezine and can be found on Twitter as @redscribe.
When I was young I dreamed of becoming a lioness, but when the moons turned and I became a woman, the gods made me a mouse. My brother, who had been an antelope (and with those legs, everyone had guessed well beforehand) had laughed and picked me up in his dusty hands. For the first time, his teeth were sharp and dangerous. I squeaked, wishing that I was stalking around the village with golden eyes and a pad full of sharp claws. How many nights had I prayed for that shape? Not to keep forever. Nobody lasted forever when they changed. It was a moon, usually, or three. My Mother had gone a year as a lark, but everyone said that the women in my family were slow to learn. You changed back when you understood and not a day before.
"Keesa! I could eat you in a bite!" And this was my brother, who had once been an eater of grass.
The smells were what caused me to sit, still, in his hand. I remembered being curious, but not afraid. I sneezed at the tang of chili that blew in the breeze from the cook-fire. Someone had crushed garlic, too, and added salt. I had whiskers now, and they danced back and forth as I rose up on my back paws.
I could have been a lioness. Why hadn't I been made a lioness? I had my answer when the hunters came.
They roared in like a hot storm. Bullets struck walls and flesh like fat droplets, running red where they landed on bodies. The hunter's trucks were complete with bars and locks, to stow away the little ones they meant to catch. Some will pay a lot to watch a change. My brother threw me into the long grasses. I thought he meant to hide me, but perhaps he just needed his hands free to fight. He should have used those long legs to run.
A lioness would have been shot and gutted and carried away as a trophy. A mouse can hide, can crouch down in the smallest of cracks, squeezing bones and innards to become a near-invisible streak of fur.
The hunters killed most of us and took the young. When they'd sped off, firing their guns victoriously into the air, I crept out. I found my brother splayed out in front of the shanty. They'd cut off his legs at the hips; prizes for the black markets. Wealthy folk would bite into his muscles in the hope that they would take his swiftness into their own bodies.
I skittered over my Mother's hand and she did not jump and shriek. I was too small to wash her body, to wrap her in cloth. I admit that I felt lucky for that.
A tug in my chest told me that I had seen enough, that I could come back again as myself. A whisper from the gods promised me back my dimpled knees, my broken fingernails. I cleaned the blood off my whiskers and held my shape.
I learned my lesson well, that day. I learned that it is sometimes better to stay a mouse, to hide away from the world that you had before. To squeak, when one once imagined a roar.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, July 25th, 2013


I wrote this story after stumbling upon the first line sitting lonely in an old book of notes. I wanted to write about the unexpected blessings that can be found in the aftermath of a tragedy, and to explore the notion that we're sometimes prepared for the future in ways that are perhaps not immediately apparent.

- Emma Osborne

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