Mice in the Machine
All was silent in the cupboard under the stairs. So hushed was it that it might have been another world.
Beyond the locked wooden door night abounded in overlapping ridges of black, the world concealed by its universal shroud. Yet something stirred tinkling the empty jam jars, dislodging dust from paint tin lids, pitter-pattering over the small, slumped figure.
The little mouse knew his way about the quiet places of the mansion and this night was no different to any other. He sniffed, but no human scent availed his senses, no creature larger then he stirred.
A twitched tail indicated for his family to follow. In a procession of tiny feet, mouse after mouse marched across the wooden shelf, around the bottles and jars and over the metal head of the thing that couldn’t be human because they’d have known. They crossed onto the thing’s askew head, trotted down its barrel chest and came to rest on its coiled spring legs.
If someone had happened to open the cupboard door, they should’ve found it most strange to see that brigade of considered vermin sat upon a broken automaton. Of course, the mice didn’t know it a broken automaton, at least, not on that first night.
The mice realised something was wrong when the automaton lifted a copper plated finger; it creaked like the old gate outside. The next day, a luminous, saffron eye lit for an instant, then flickered to grey. On the third day, the automaton coughed, but that scared the mice away. The thing didn’t move again until they came back and then it just squeaked.
Squeaks to you and I mean nothing: a hinge that wants oiling; a wobbly shelf; a mouse. To the mice it meant much more. In fact, it meant everything. One might almost have said they understood it. That they understood it completely.
The inventor never knew how his failed experiment escaped the cupboard. He’d never gotten it to work. All he had to go on was small, mouselike footprints in the dust, a spare spring and a note that said goodbye.