Wind howled over the mountain ridge as snow and sleet pummeled the ground. Most animals burrowed in their dens, tucked away from the threat, leaving the night quiet except for the raging storm.
Exhausted and freezing, Isaac spied smoke curling from a fireplace in the distance, a family hunkered in a warm house safe from the turbulent weather. The dogs that normally protected the house snored in front of the roaring fire, so Isaac snuck across the yard undetected, leaving only footprints from he and Daisy. They wanted only shelter for a night.
Isaac spotted a flapping piece of canvas and guided Daisy under it, a refuge from the relentless wind. Safe for a moment, they studied the surroundings, a gleaming tower of steel. They smelled cooked food from long ago and sensed the refuge within the darkness.
As mice, Isaac and Daisy could think of no better winter home than an unused, outdoor grill stored for the cold season. The human family just a few feet away inside their own home would be blissfully unaware of their presence. They curled up for the night and slept soundly.
Isaac rose early the next morning to explore. Bits and pieces of human food, cooked over the previous summer, made for a great harvest. They ate heartily. Their spirits rose.
With a full belly, Isaac assessed the situation. The grill sat on a patio behind the human house, an area rarely accessed during the harsh winter. A fence surrounded the patio, no obstacle for a mouse, but sufficient to keep the dogs at bay – canines that belonged to the human family and enjoyed the larger fenced yard surrounding the patio during the day. The dogs sensed their presence but had no way to get them. And, they served a larger purpose in keeping the wild predators away. No coyote or bobcat dared enter the dogs’ domain. No hawk, owl or eagle would swoop near them. Not even a snake would dare enter their yard. Normally a natural threat, the dogs served as their unwitting protectors.
At night, the dogs slept inside the human home, giving Isaac and Daisy the ability to search for supplies. The dogs’ own fur insulated their growing home built inside the grill. And when the inevitable babies arrived, they snuggled into the warmth of that fur-lined nest.
Warmth. Food. Safety. The mouse family thrived. Children were born. And those children had children. The nest inside the grill under the canvas cover grew ever larger. While the dogs were curious at the sounds of mouse construction, the humans were clueless of their new house guests.
Until the weather turned warm.
Spring erupted across the mountains. One evening, the humans celebrated the end of winter with a dinner on the patio and steaks grilled outdoors. The human removed the canvas cover. The steel gleamed in the glow of the setting sun as the human lifted the lid, allowing light to flood into the interior for the first time in months. Mouse city was revealed.
Isaac squeaked a warning to his family. “Run! Run!” he shouted. And they ran. Over the top of the grill. From under the grill. Out the sides of the grill.
The human, horrified, just squeaked. He stared at the mouse condominium complex built over the winter.
The human removed the nests. Marveled at the construction. Noted the fur lined walls. And scrubbed the grill clean. The steak dinner was cooked, only a few hours later than planned.
As darkness fell and the grill cooled, Isaac led his family back to their destroyed home. They savored the new tidbits of food – tasty steak – and vowed to rebuild. Construction resumed.
A week later, the humans had hamburgers. The man again opened the grill only to see a sprawling mouse construction project. He – and the dogs – watched mice evacuate again.
The combatants declared war. The human man refused to recognize Isaac’s claim. Isaac refused to yield his homestead.
The human set traps. At first, casualties among the mice were high, but they became wiser, learning how to get the offered food without tripping the deadly traps.
Frustrated with the empty traps, empty of both bait and victims, the human studied the internet for methods to claim the grill for his own. He refused poison because of the risk to the dogs, but other tactics were attempted.
Learning that mice hate the smell of mothballs, the human strategically placed a supply throughout the grill. A week later, with a Saturday evening beckoning for a bar-be-que, the human opened the grill and gagged at the smell. He noted the latest mouse construction project, conducted by mice with little tiny gas masks undeterred by the fumes.
Other humans advised that peppermint oil was the solution, a guaranteed repellent. Isaac’s family was unfazed and became the sweetest smelling mice in the land. The humans were repulsed by the strange peppermint flavor that any grilled meat absorbed.
Aluminum foil and steel wool were plugged into holes to prevent mice entry. Determined rodents punched through entryways and new construction projects expanded.
The human, deciding that the problem was any remnant of food left after a meal, scrubbed the grill after each use. The mice appreciated the cleanliness and doubled their construction efforts.
Each fall, as the weather turned colder, the human would grill less and less. By winter, as weeks went by without grilling, the mouse kingdom expanded at a phenomenal rate. The word spread throughout the mice world about Isaac’s riches, and refugees found their way to the magical grill home.
Each spring, the human would try to evict his rodent tenants but wearied of the battle. Grilling became too much of an effort, removing the elaborate nests before dinner and scrubbing the grill after. It was easier to cook inside the kitchen and bring the meals outside to eat. The mice declared victory, celebrating in their claimed home.
Over the years, Isaac passed the home to his son who passed it to his son and so on until King Harold. Harry Mouse took pride in his ancestral home, shared with brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews scurrying about. The human bothered them no more.
Until the rumbling tractor approached.
The diesel engine usually meant that the human was mowing the field, a threat to the common mouse who burrowed in the ground. But the engine roared close, mere feet away from the patio. Harry peered out of a spy hole in the canvas, a hole carefully crafted by his great-great grandfather Isaac to monitor the movement of the dogs. Harry didn’t see the dogs, but he spied a much greater threat. The human tractor was armed with a front end loader, the scoop lowered into position inches from their home.
Earlier that spring, the human had surrendered. After fruitless years, he did not try to reclaim the grill but planned the grill’s removal. The only path off of the patio was through the house, but the humans did not want Harry’s family running around inside. Instead, the human opted to lift the grill over the fence with the tractor, haul it to a waiting truck, and take it to a local charity. The charity, after some cleaning, would resell the grill and use the money to feed homeless humans.
With the front end loader positioned, the human grabbed the grill and tossed it into the bucket. The tractor roared its engine and lifted the grill high into the air, clearing the fence. Safely away from the patio, the tractor hauled the grill through the field to the waiting pick-up truck.
Harry sounded the alarm, squealing for an evacuation. The human driving the tractor watched as the first mouse leapt to the grass and scampered for the woods, an eye to the sky for a possible diving hawk or eagle or owl. A few feet later, another mouse dove from the grill and raced across the field, scanning the horizon for a hungry coyote. And Harry himself jumped and ran, searching for the resident bobcat.
Hours later, as night descended, the humans gathered around their outside patio table. Food was brought from inside the kitchen and a celebration feast commenced. The dogs patrolled just outside the patio keeping the humans safe from wildlife. Periodically, a dog would stop and sniff, the faint smell of mouse feet that had scampered a retreat only hours earlier, but no mouse dared that trek while the canines roamed.
Harry Mouse watched this scene from the edge of the forest. He observed the happy humans celebrate their victory. He longingly looked at the space where their home had been only hours earlier, but also eyed the dogs in the yard. No point in risking the dogs for a home that no longer existed.
Resigned to building a new home, Harry led his family deep into the woods.