Hours west of a major city, there was a farm with rolling hills that went up and down like yellow ocean waves until they reached the base of a mountain. At the edge of the farm, there was a house. It was large with brown shingles on the roof, off-white siding, a wraparound porch, and blue shutters on the sides of its many windows. The kitchen was in the back of the house where the farmer’s wife could look out a large window into the fields as she worked. There was a hole that was very difficult to notice in a baseboard near the kitchen. The hole was the entrance to the tidy nest where Mouse lived with his wife, two children, mother, and mother-in-law.
Mouse was born in that farmhouse. His family had lived there for many years undetected by the humans who unwillingly shared it. Then, his mother-in-law grew incontinent as she grew older. After smelling urine and finding tiny black feces in their cabinets, the farmers made all of their food unobtainable by the mice. There was only one thing left to eat in the house: large pieces of bright and fragrant cheese. These were in the catches of mousetraps.
“Don’t touch that cheese!” warned Mother Mouse. “Your father touched cheese when it was on a contraption like that and died.”
“My husband touched cheese on a similar device,” said Mother-in-Law Mouse, “and he died too.”
“That is the only food left in the house,” said Mouse. “Do you know of anyone who has eaten cheese from that gizmo and not died?” Both Mother Mouse and Mother-in-Law Mouse answered that they had not.
From what he knew, Mouse had two choices. He and his family could starve to death, or he could be killed by the mousetrap. “After Father Mouse and Father-in-Law Mouse died, did either of you get the cheese?” Mouse asked.
“We certainly did not,” said Mother Mouse.
“Don’t you see the pattern, Mouse?” asked Mother-in-Law Mouse. “Touch the cheese, then die. You end up lying flat on your stomach across the base of that doohickey with the hammer smashed against the back of your neck. ” Their observations were consistent that the consequences of touching the cheese were severe. Touch the cheese and then die – every time. Mouse felt foolish for his persistence. He believed there could be a way to get the cheese without dying. That belief was contrary to what had actually been observed.
“What do you think will happen to me if I’m gathered up in a ball at the base of that device?” Mouse asked Mrs. Mouse when they were alone.
“You’ll die,” she answered. “Please let it go. Let’s just find something else to eat.” But Mouse was obsessed with that cheese. He wanted to feed his family, but he wanted to solve the problem even more. He wanted to achieve something his father and father-in-law had died trying to do.
The night after his conversations with the ladies; all of the lights in the house were out, the farmers slept, and the moonlight illuminated the room outside of Mouse’s home. He went to study the mousetrap. He imagined his father carefully crawling over the base. He imagined him reaching with his paws to get the cheese, taking a bite, and then the hammer slamming down on him. Mouse saw the hammer on the other side of the base of the mousetrap. He saw it held down by a bar. He saw the bar connected to the catch where the cheese was stuck.
Mouse crawled to the edge of the base on the side with the hammer. He reached out with his little pink paws, held the bar, and wiggled it. Nothing happened. He was too scared to touch the hammer, so he crawled to the center where there was a spring. He gave it a little push. Nothing happened. The only part he had not tried was the catch where the cheese was. Touching the cheese, he remembered, was death. The older mice said that every mouse who touched the cheese died.
“What if something other than a mouse touched the cheese?” he thought aloud. Mouse ran back into his nest and ran out with a screw between his teeth. He stood up and took careful aim. Then, he threw the screw at the catch. When the screw hit the cheese, Mouse heard a frightening snap. He jumped back and scurried into his hole. He did not die.
After his fear passed, the family’s fear passed too. They went to see him and were relieved that he was alive. Mouse peeked out of the hole. The mousetrap had flipped over. The bar was sticking out the side. Mouse crawled to the mousetrap and reached underneath.
“Don’t!” cried Mrs. Mouse. But Mouse was already underneath. He bit pieces of cheese off the catch. He took the pieces to his family. Mrs. Mouse held the cheese in her paws and stared at her husband.
“How did you do it?” asked Mrs. Mouse. Mouse led her to another trap leaving the children to eat the rest of the cheese off the trap he made harmless. He showed her how touching the cheese made the hammer strike. He guessed that whatever touched the cheese did not need to be a mouse. He took a second gamble after guessing that the hammer only struck once.
From that day forward, Mouse sought to really understand things. He wanted to learn why he behaved a certain way instead of just doing what he had been taught. He did some dangerous things as a result. For example, he wandered out during the day and in the light instead of only at night and in the dark. He also wandered away from the wall instead of sticking to it. Sometimes, he was rewarded by his curiosity – like when he found food during the day under the kitchen table. He began to wonder if they could find food in the fields outside of the house.
Mouse’s family ate cheese for a few days. Then, they ate peanut butter for another few days. The farmers gave up on the mouse traps and removed them. They replaced them with new traps that were long rectangular boxes that held food inside of them. Mouse thought it would be best to leave those alone. He was going to get food for his family outside of the house and try to make the farmers believe the mice were not living with them anymore.