Late one night this spring, our staff got a message from a neighboring shop owner, letting us know that they’d seen something moving in the shop after dark. Victor and Jenny hurried to review the shop’s security footage, worried about a break-in. They couldn’t believe what they saw…
When the shop lights turned off for the evening and they heard the snick of the door locking, all the animals shook themselves vigorously and hurried to make themselves up for the night’s activities.
Fair night at The Paper Mouse was everybody’s favorite, and there was no better spot to enjoy it from than at the top of the great golden ferris wheel. Everybody rushed to queue up for the ride. The wait was abominably long, but the view was worth it: one could see the whole of the land, with vast plains rolling away on one side, dotted with the humpy hills of notebook stacks, and great mountains and valleys on the other, from Pen Case Peak to the formidable Book Table range. Sitting perched on a ridge in the middle, with the lights of the ferris wheel twinkling and flashing around you, you felt like king of the world.
Of course, if you could fly, like Super Mouse, then nothing was off-limits, no horizon out of reach. She soared overhead like a bird, dipping down to high-five the ferris wheel riders and then veering off to help rescue Oliver (the most rambunctious of Mrs. Owl’s five owlets), who had gotten stuck in the inkwell again. Buffalo watched her from his seat on the ferris wheel and wondered what it would feel like to be a hero.
That night, Polar Bear finally proposed to Panda (everyone knew it was coming, it seemed, except for Panda himself), and everyone burst into applause when they saw the two bears kiss at the very top of the wheel.
Across the valleys and peaks of the land, Jack London Russell and his team of chariot dogs were training for the Forest Iditarod. Jack was pretty stiff after keeping still all day on his cast-iron stand, where he had a day job pretending to be a bookend, but he told himself it kept him in great form for his race. He hopped down off the plinth, limbered up, and whistled for his dogs. He’d been training with White Fang and Buck since all three of them were puppies, and now his racing partners were as lean and muscled as any of the huskies on the forest trail.
Jack’s father had been a champion racer in the Forest Iditarod, and he’d left big paw prints for his pup to follow in. To be perfectly honest, Jack sometimes wondered whether his dream of winning the race was really his own. He was a quiet, gentle soul who liked to spend the evenings knitting—he’d made booties and scarves for nearly everyone of his acquaintance—and he felt that he would never push his own pups the way his old man had pushed him. But the companionable silence of White Fang and Buck as they bobbed and weaved down the forest trail filled his heart every night, and in the end he always concluded that no life of solitude, no matter how peaceful, could replace their warm friendship.
White Fang and Buck themselves were hardened athletes who were fiercely attached to Jack, for he was the only racer who had always believed in their abilities, in spite of their lapdog appearances. They had grown up watching the race with the starry-eyed avidity of pups, and had howled with misery when their parents told them gently that only big dogs ran the trail. But their playmate Jack had a big heart and a bigger imagination, and he had defied the wisdom of his famous father to train with his two friends. White Fang and Buck would run to the ends of the earth for Jack.
High above the hustle and bustle of the crowds, the crows flocked together to exchange news of the day. Betty Blackwing was the worst gossip of them all, and the rest couldn’t wait to hear her vicious remarks and juicy stories.
She began in top form. “Today I heard the man human say the air conditioner was busted. He spent an hour poking around back there and muttering to himself.”
The other crows laughed, recalling the night earlier that week when they had all pooped on the air filter.
“Idiots, the whole species. Another one of those nomadic humans wandered in today looking for a calendar. They can’t remember where their own rear ends are without their little bits of paper to remind them, or those glowy rectangles they carry. Karl used to say when they lose their rectangles, they look as pathetic as nestlings begging for a worm.”
They all fell silent for a moment, remembering poor Karl. He had been purchased the previous winter by a customer with a jaunty crow feather in her hat, who had cooed over his sweet face and announced that he would fit right in with her collection. That glossy black feather boded ill for poor, hapless Karl.
Then Betty shrugged. “Karl was a featherbrain anyway.”
For the cleaning staff, the crows were a disaster. Incontinent, the lot of them. That was on top of their nasty tempers and eternal grudges. Nina had once forgotten to freshen up the nest of that venomous old feather duster Betty, and the spiteful bird had jeered at her and made up the most dreadful gossip about her ever since. Horrid things, crows.
But tonight Nina hardly cared. Even when she had to climb the rafters and shimmy across the ceiling to reach the isolated lamp that batty old Desmond just had to perch on and had to poop on, she couldn’t help grinning. Tonight, she had a date. Handsome Gustav, a waiter at the elegant new restaurant across town, had asked her to meet him by the restaurant after her shift was over.
Gustav had long, silky whiskers, a sweet face, and black eyes that made Nina feel hot around the collar. All that night as she cleaned popcorn under the ferris wheel at the fairground, tidied up after Mrs. Owl’s troop of little hellions (why couldn’t birds keep themselves tidy, for heaven’s sake, with all that preening they did?), and patiently herded dust bunnies out of sight, she kept picturing Gustav’s face and feeling the warm swoop of anticipation in her belly.
La Petite Souris was the nicest restaurant in town. They served only the freshest vegetables grown by local farmers, freshly caught seafood, and wild-foraged mushrooms and berries. Their dishes had names like “Wood Fired Bouillabaisse with Bread Three Ways” and were sprinkled artistically with edible flowers and microgreens. They prided themselves on serving every customer with equal attention, going out of their way to provide the Souris experience even when customers were too large to fit in the restaurant. Mr. Ganto, the gentlemanly dinosaur who lived around the corner, ate at the outdoor bar nearly every other evening. “I’ve never eaten better baguettes in my life,” he’d sigh dreamily at Chef Jean-Michel when he came out to greet his loyal guest. “They’re so fresh from the oven, they practically glow.”
Gustav normally enjoyed his shifts at La Petite Souris, whose patrons were generally kindly and chatty, but tonight his paws were shaking so badly he nearly dropped a tray of crème glacée (strawberry-rhubarb, in season). He had invited that pretty mouse Nina to meet him after work, and he couldn’t help thinking he would make a fool of himself. He had enlisted the help of the sous-chef, planning to surprise Nina with a candlelight dinner in the restaurant kitchen after La Petite Souris was closed for the night. But was that too forward of him, too flamboyant for a first date? Gustav loved to read romances, and he wanted to sweep Nina off her paws. But now he wondered if he should just have planned to take Nina to the fairground for a ferris wheel ride. Or was that equally sappy?
His paws sweated as he watched the clock, heart skittering as the hour grew nearer and nearer.
On fair night, Bertie and Jemima loved nothing more than to skip town and head to the beach. It was quiet and peaceful out there on the glowing sands. In their younger days they had loved to visit the fairgrounds, holding hands and eating toasted cheese kebabs, saving up tickets for a ride or a prize. But these days they were happy to escape the noise and the crowds. Jemima floated lazily on the water, feeling the rise and fall of the float as the waves rolled beneath her. Bertie read his book and collected seashells, or dug in the sand for interesting tidbits that had been left behind. Every once in a while he’d proffer something for Jemima’s notice.
“Look, dear, someone’s lost a ring.”
“Better leave it with the lifeguard,” she replied sleepily. “Maybe someone will come looking for it.”
The waves shushed. The breeze sighed. Jemima floated. Bertie scuffed in the sand.
“Look at this, dear,” he said again. He was holding out a battered glass bottle. There was a bit of paper curled inside.
Jemima peered over with interest. “What’s it say? Can you get it open?” She rolled off the float and paddled toward him.
With a heroic effort, Bertie managed to scrabble the tightly wedged cork out of the bottle. Jemima felt her heart pitter-pattering like she was a pup on a treasure hunt. He proffered her the bottle with a smile. “You do the honors.”
Jemima carefully dried her paws on a towel and fished inside the bottle until she caught hold of the paper. Bertie peered over her shoulder as she carefully unrolled it. They read. Their faces fell.
I bet I fooled you suckers, read the note. You thought you’d found some long-lost treasure. Ha, ha!
It was signed BB, and stamped with a crow’s footprint.
Jemima and Bertie looked at each other. Then they began to laugh. “That Betty,” said Jemima, shaking her head. “She’s a piece of work.”
It had been a long night. Dawn was approaching, and the Smiskis had been trying to get little Rina to sleep for two hours. They were exhausted. They’d tried singing to her, reading to her, rocking her, bouncing her. Finally, Mina collapsed into bed with her and Lina half-melted into a chair and recited the goodnight book for the millionth time that evening. And lo and behold—she was asleep.
“Look at her,” Mina whispered. “She looks like a little angel.”
“We know better,” Lina whispered back, but she smiled anyway. She did look celestial, glowing with the sweetness of babyhood.
Soon her parents were asleep, too. The morning was on its way.