“Don’t go, Erin! But if you must, follow the bright red road. DON’T stray off it! Your arrows and bullets won’t save you.”
Those words from our village elders echo through my head with every step I take. Now I wish I’d listened to them. Just 100 feet in and the canopy blots out the sky even in brightest day; the mists rising from the wet grounds hide the red road.
My crossbow loaded, my sonic canon over my shoulder, knives and grenades on my belt and in my boots, I crouch along in eerie silence. That silence is in contrast to the soft howling we all hear every night. For the last 73 years, the howling becomes a worm in our heads in July and at least one brave soul enters the forbidden forest in desperation to find and silence the source. Those first 100 feet brought mournful howling with a frequent banshee screech which ripped through my ears. I wonder how my elders know my weapons won’t work.
Cold sweat drips off my forehead; my hand slips on the grip. Even with eyes dilated, all I see is darkest night images and small swirls in the mists. Steady, stealthy, I finally hear sounds — my heart beat and quick breaths. My tongue goes sour then dry as sand. An eddy forms ahead just inches off the ground; I point my crossbow at the disturbance and wait for a target. Silence.
A faint light straight ahead is suspicious. Is it the source, or a distraction? The lack of cricket and bird sounds allows me to hear a sudden, crisp snap of twig to my far right. I can’t be sure I am still on the safe red road, yet I move slowly toward the sound. *SNAP* again, it’s closer to my right. When I silently move behind a berm, 100 feet toward the sound, a half circle of intense lights hanging from low branches flood the forest and blind me to the unseen, unheard attack. In seconds, I am overwhelmed with incredible strength; many hands toss me about and strip all my weapons and clothes from me. A sub sonic wave tumbles me and empties my stomach.
As the last of my breakfast splashes on the ground, I rise to my knees, naked. All but one light turn off. Echoes and blindness make it impossible to find the source of a squeaky voice. It screeches at me, “Welcome, brave one. I was, no am, Mircon. As we hoped, you too failed to heed the survivors’ warnings and strayed off the safe path. What they didn’t know in their time either, is there is no safe path. Had you followed the red road to the distant light, our invaders would have zapped you into a greasy cloud of putrid smoke or captured and changed you. We earlier brave warriors have also been tempted off the red road, survived, and are building a resistance. Returning to your village as we are has not been survivable.”
Though I still couldn’t see them, I heard many feet nearby. A voice continued, “We infiltrated their hovel and learned much. Their small shack we see is merely bait. Most of their base is under that. In the moments we had when we broached it, we stole a weapon and documents we can barely understand. Images told us enough. Their race is called M’str, but we call them monsters. Their base is the ship they used to cross the stars. It is too big for us to map in detail so we can only guess, by the disturbed earth, that it holds thousands. The howls we all hear are their understanding of how to lure us into their grasp. Once they have us, they extract our memories and use a weapon to change us into something less threatening to them. We few survived with memories intact.”
With those words, Mircon stepped into the light. Even on my knees, I had to look down to see him. His squeaky voice contrasted with the twisted, angry, determined face and forward facing whiskers before me. As I looked past the tiny creature, others like him stepped forward. All were in armored vests, battle gear and bristled with tiny conventional weapons. All were Field Mice!
“I was a leader among men, so our rebels follow me here too.” I smiled at the absurdity and sat back. Before I could laugh out loud, Mircon reminded me where we were and of the ever present danger. “We may be small, but are you not naked and without weapons? We did that to show our strength and to be sure we have all your weapons before we make you our offer. You have three choices: join us now in stopping mankind’s conquest by the monsters; follow us back to the red road and then either proceed to their shack on your own to certain death; or return home, naked, as a ‘survivor’ and be honored by your clan without ever revealing our resistance army except to a select few. What is your choice?”
Stunned, I looked around at the 70 rebels. “Surely you can’t believe you can stop other worldly, advanced and bigger beings with this small rag-tag team and small weapons? ”
“These weapons have the same power as when they were big, and we have our full human strength in smaller bodies. We also have two of the M’strs multi function weapons. Since 1947, only 70 humans proved ready and worthy to face the monsters and survive. We don’t have a choice to wait and gather more rebels slowly. If you chose to return home, we ask you to encourage your bravest and fittest to join us. They must know only that they might not return home. We will not shrink or change them. Tell them who we are and to be careful stomping around us. Our strike force is nearly ready and our plan is set. Your weapons are a great help.”
“So, you need more ‘soldiers’ to attack. Why do you believe you have a chance against these M’strs? What other weapons do you need?”
“We have flame throwers and other explosives already. After distracting them with full size humans, we will infiltrate and set off their own explosives to destroy their ship and their threat. If there are survivors, we will use their shrink gun on them to make them edible ants and consume them. Our spies have seen increased activity so we believe they are about to attack. You seem to have chosen option three. Good. Get on all fours to be marked. When you return home, show your elders our pale mark on your ass.”
“Wait. What if their shrinker doesn’t work on them? Marked how? When my people see my mark, they will question it.”
“We can only hope their weapons work on them or we and mankind are lost. Do not show your commoners your mark. When the elders see the whiskers on the inverted triangle within a circle, they will know you are with us and will show you their marks then tell you the truth about their time here. You are bound by the same vow of secrecy. This will sting a little despite the gentle blue laser leaving just a light burn.”
The instant laser pulse burned me before I could scream in pain. ‘Sting a little’ my ass! Oh, yes, well. Ouch. I stood and still felt my skin sizzle though the pain was gone. Mircon outlined his plan. He wanted humans to attack from the left side with grenades at the edge of the loose earth. That would at least expose their ship. Loud noise and flames will draw them to that side of the ship so his crew could eliminate the conquerors after entering through the small holes on the right side.
I ran back to my village. The elders were ready for me and closely examined my mark. They nodded and showed me their burned gluts. In secret, I revealed that the attack would begin just before the dawn after next. We gathered our bravest warriors, men and women, and told them only of the threat to our village. Telling them they would destroy the worm in our heads convinced them to fight to the end. We told them just enough to select thirty then, after their sworn oaths, told just those the rest of the plan and how they might not return if the rebel mouse army failed to destroy the enemy. Then we trained in stealth and evasive moves.
The soft, mournful howling became louder the next night with more frequent banshee screams. Just before midnight, our brave band of heroes entered the dark forrest. We followed the red road and listened for a single twig snap far off the path as we ignored the silent threats. I lead them to the small clearing where Mircon and his mice waited. He had all of them strip and blasted their gluts with the rebel mark — without the whiskers. Apparently he had concerns the M’strs could take human shape.
We reviewed the plan together and Mircon sketched out the ship location and weakest points. The sky above the shack began to lighten. It was time. We split into our assigned groups and as the black of night faded, our humans launched dozens of grenades. “For humanity!” squeaked Mircon as the rebel mice stealthily charged and entered the right side of the ship. The battle was on.