There was a small grey mouse in the corner of the room. It’s tiny pink paws scuttling around the base of the wall, sniffing about with it’s pert shivering whiskers, a long spindly tail trailing behind it, swishing occasionally. Jemma liked mice, they were all fluffy and cute with their big black eyes, and pinky soft ears. She’d owned one as a child– well, she hadn’t owned one. Lucy, the mouse, had been a kindergarten class pet shared between her and twenty other five-year-olds. Jemma had loved it the most though. She’d loved that furry, cuddly, scuttle-y mouse from the day she saw it, to the day Andy Mayfield had snuck rat poison into it’s cage and killed it. Instantly. She didn’t like Andy Mayfield after that. But she still liked mice.
Scrunched up, beneath her mattress, hidden behind the slightly fallen quilt, Jemma watched that little mouse. In the darkness of the room, she could just make out it’s tiny movements, accompanied by the small scratching noises its paws were making. She liked that the mouse was there. The mouse kept her company. Watching that little mouse, Jemma decided to call the mouse Liam, since Liam started with an ‘L’, like Lucy, because she still missed Lucy sometimes.
Now, as a seven-year-old, Jemma was reaching that sort of age where lying, scrunched up beneath your mattress, hiding behind a slightly fallen quilt is considered a bit too childish. Jemma tended to dislike people who said that. She had decided from the moment Amy Hacknell had teased her about it, that all people who said hiding under your bed was childish, were stupid. Because they didn’t know why she hid there. They didn’t know who she was hiding from. They didn’t know anything, and that, is what made them stupid.
She’d tried hiding other places. But nothing muffled out the sound like the quilt. Nothing could really distract her from what was happening downstairs like the mouse in the corner, sniffing around. Down here, under the bed, behind the quilt, that was the only place that was safe, and the stupid people just couldn’t seem to understand that.
It was hard for Jemma sometimes, muffling out the noise, drowning out the shouts and the smashes and the screams. But she’d gotten better at it over the last couple of years. Truth be told, when the shouts first started and her mother had knelt down and whispered to Jemma to hide, Jemma didn’t really know where she would’ve gone. Luckily enough, Jemma’s mother had enough sense to suggest the bed.
“Go!” she’d whispered. “Under the bed, quick Jemma. Hurry before he realises!”
So Jemma had gone, and after that first night, Jemma knew, that every night that Daddy came back home late, with his eyes red and bloodshot, that she was to run upstairs, and hide till the shouting stopped, or till someone came up to fetch her and tell her that it was safe.
That someone was usually Jemma’s brother, Brian. Once Jemma had even told Brian about her secret hiding spot where she could watch mice. Earlier on, Brian had come up and hid with her under the bed, covering her ears and making funny faces. Then, as he started growing taller and bigger, he stopped coming up with her, and started staying downstairs, and then it wasn’t just Jemma’s Dad and Mum shouting, it was Brian too.
She was scared there by herself. But she kept herself brave, because she was bigger now, like Brian, and big people like Brian don’t get scared… Well, truth be told, Jemma knew she wasn’t that brave, no matter how hard she tried, because brave people like Brian weren’t hiding under the bed. The brave people were downstairs, shouting. Jemma knew that if she was brave enough, she would go downstairs too, and be brave like her mother and Brian. But she was still under her bed, watching the mouse, so Jemma knew, she wasn’t brave, and she was pretty sure she’d never be brave, because as much as she drowned it out, the shouting and smashing and screaming scared her, and she knew it always would.
So she stared at her mouse, with its pink spindly tail, watching it nose into the corner, when all of a sudden, her Liam mouse turned around and looked straight at her… But… as it turned out, it wasn’t a Liam mouse which Jemma had been watching and cooing at. In fact, the furry, soft, pink mouse in the corner, wasn’t even a mouse. As it turned toward her, the mouse had bared it’s face to show a long, un-mouse-like snout. And large, very pointy, un-mouse-like teeth. And finally, the thing that convinced Jemma most of all that the creature she was looking at was not a mouse, were it’s startlingly bright, very un-mouse-like, very rat-like, yellow eyes.
And as Jemma realised that the rat monster was coming toward her, she had nothing she could do. She lay on her belly in the darkness, stuck behind her quilt, trapped beneath her mattress, as the rat monster, sniffed its way ever closer. And Jemma was terrified.
But she knew she couldn’t scream, because if she screamed, then she’d be a brave person like her mother and Brian. If she screamed, her dad with the bloodshot eyes would know she was there, and he would find her. She was not yet brave enough to scream. And if she couldn’t scream, then the only thing Jemma could do was cry. Silent, shivering sobs, she cried, as she bit her lip to stop it from quivering. Jemma cried, and she kept crying. Even as the rat monster turned around, and scuttled it’s filthy paws out from under the bed, all the while swishing it’s scaly worm tail behind it. Jemma still cried, still scared, still hiding. And she knew now, for certain, that she would never be brave, and that she would never stop hiding, because she was afraid of a pathetic little rat. A pathetic little furry rat with yellow eyes. And she hated herself, because those little yellow eyes weren’t even bloodshot.