A tale of mice, ravens, and wicked pirate rats
The Flight to Purslane
Chapter 1
On clear, sunny days when the smoke from the chimney drifted straight up in lazy puffs and the air was mild enough to venture out on deck, the eleven young mice of the family Burdock would make gliders. Years ago, before the littlest Burdocks were born, William had discovered the delight of folding a piece of scrap paper and flinging it off the side of the house-ship. The others soon picked up the game and tossed glider after glider into the sky, watching as they soared down, down, down, past the clouds and out of sight. An afternoon spent this way was like a holiday on the house-ship. Everyone joined in the fun, folding and decorating and having contests to see who could fling them the farthest. In the evenings they would lie on deck as the stars came out and wonder where their gliders had landed. They always hoped that someone had found theirs and admired the picture, the fine folds.
The Burdock mice had to be creative in finding their fun. Certainly, it was thrilling to soar through the skies in the house-ship, but week after week, month after month, it could become tedious. Melvin Burdock, the children’s father, had made his fortune by building a swift little ship that cut through the clouds and carrying cargo between even the farthest forests swifter than anyone. Then Melvin’s wife Emeline began to have baby after baby, and he was forced to expand his house-ship. He built up a house, then a watchtower, then a yard with two trees. As his family grew the ship grew with it until it looked like a small floating village with all of its chimneys and rooftops and clothes hanging out to dry and children playing wild games outside.
One particular day when the sun was out and the mice were making gliders, Charles sat on the roof of the house in the shade of the lookout tower and studied the clouds. He was the middlemost Burdock, with five older siblings and five younger, and he was also the quietest. When the other mice played hide-and-seek and grab-your-tail he preferred to sit on the roof and watch the sky or scurry down below and read books. He was a little strange and a little skittish and no one was quite sure what to do with him, so most often everyone simply left him alone. After all, that was what Charles seemed to prefer.
Charles also had an uncanny knack for predicting the weather. His sensitive ears and wide eyes picked up tiny changes in breezes and clouds that the rest missed. The first few times his family had disregarded him when he insisted that a storm was brewing when the sky seemed clear, but as the years passed they had learned to batten down the hatches when he told them to. He was always right. That was why he sat on the rooftop, gazing out into the endless blue. Deep inside he knew something was wrong, but he couldn’t place it. No ordinary storm was coming.
Charles took his eyes off the sky when a paper airplane fell into his lap. Sophie, one of his younger sisters, scampered over to retrieve it. Her laughter stopped suddenly when she saw Charles.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, “You have that look on your face like a storm’s on its way.”
“Not a storm,” he muttered, “Something else.”
“Well, whatever it is, shouldn’t you tell Father?”
“I’m not sure how to explain it,” said Charles, “It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before.”
Sophie sat down and swung her legs over the side of the roof. For a little while they were silent. They watched the airplanes swirl to earth below their feet and felt the strange foreboding side by side. After a while Sophie ran off and tried to chase the chill away with laughter and late afternoon sun, leaving Charles alone with his thoughts.
As dusk descended on the house-ship and the air grew nippy, the mice headed indoors. There were three brick structures jutting out from the deck of the ship: a watchtower, a building which housed Melvin’s offices and workers, and the Burdock family’s home sandwiched in between. In the evenings the mice gathered in the living room to listen to Emeline’s stories. A fire roared in the hearth and threw light on the walls, which were each painted a different cheerful color. There were numerous chairs and couches, all of them old and cushy and perfectly comfortable. Shelves of books and knickknacks encircled the room, and a bright braided rug covered most of the floor.
Melvin had a brilliant mind for building things. Engines and gears thrilled him, and he was always tinkering and improving the house-ship. His wife, on the other hand, was a story-builder. She loved to spin characters and weave worlds the same way Melvin loved to invent. Tonight her tale was the latest installment in the adventures of a migrating goose. All of the mice sat transfixed by the story until the littlest one started to drift off and Emeline told the younger ones to head off to bed.
Charles, being smack in the middle of the Burdock, was never quite sure whether he was one of the younger ones or the older ones. Tonight, though, he decided he was older and hung back when the little mice scurried away to bed. When Emeline had finished tucking them all in she found Charles sitting on the couch by the window, staring at the moon and fidgeting with his whiskers.
“Something wrong, love?” asked Emeline.
“Yes, but I’m not sure what,” sighed Charles, still looking out the window, “Like when a storm’s coming, but different.”
“Hmm,” said Emeline. She stroked her ear pensively. “You’ve got a wide imagination and you notice what the rest of us don’t. An imagination is a good, good thing, but it can run wild. Courage, dear, and why don’t you pick out a book before you go up to bed?”
Charles nodded, selected a book from the shelf nearest him, and headed up the stairs, hoping that his mother was right. After all the children were asleep Emeline swept through the house one last time with a lamp in her paw. She shivered, not because the house was cold, but because she felt as though someone had left a door cracked in her heart and made her all drafty inside. When she went to bed she almost told Melvin but thought the better of it. He was too sensible to understand the strange fear that she felt.

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