Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for pre-intermediate learners. The name of the story is The Mice Discuss. This is chapter two of two. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Mice2. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Mice2. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
I have an exciting announcement to make: some of you may know a website called iTalki. It’s spelt I-T-A-L-K-I. iTalki is a website for doing language classes online. I’ve been teaching there for a while, but I wasn’t taking on new students until recently. I am now taking on new students, and I think some of you might be interested in classes.
So the classes I do are based around stories, just like this podcast. In our classes together we will create stories as a way for you to learn, and you will have lots of control over what happens in the story. I’ve done this class with many students and they all really love it. The stories we create together are silly, funny, and very strange. If you would like to book a class, go EasyStoriesInEnglish.com and click ‘Classes’ at the top. I really look forward to teaching you.
OK, so I’m just going to recap the first chapter of the story.
So in the first chapter of The Mice Discuss, Gentle’s cousin Nosy wrote him a letter. Gentle’s family lives in a human house. They hide underneath and when the humans are asleep they come out and eat their food. But they have a problem: the humans have brought a cat into the house, and the cat kills them when they try to steal food.
Nosy the mouse has heard all kinds of amazing things about Gentle. They all think Gentle is a real hero in the Great Forest. So they invite him to come help them, but when Gentle arrives, he explains that he is not a hero. He has done some things, like make friends with Crush the lion, but it was because he was kind, and not strong.
Living in the house is Crackle. Crackle is Gentle’s sister. She was very weak as a child, and he wanted to stay with her in the Great Forest. But his brothers, sisters, and cousins said Gentle was too weak to look after her, and they took her with them into the house.
Crackle has a bell, a small metal thing that they can put on the cat, and then when the cat is near they will hear. But they need someone to put the bell on the cat, and of course, Gentle is the person who has to do this.
OK, I’ll just explain some words before we begin.
The tongue of a bell is the inside part of a bell, a small bit of metal, that hits the rest of the bell. This is how a bell makes its sound. So when you shake a bell, you make the tongue hit the rest of the bell.
Evil means very, very bad. It means someone who is morally bad. For example, a witch is usually evil.
A servant is someone whose job it is to help someone else. Hundreds of years ago it was very common to have servants. The servants would do the cooking, clean your clothes, clean the house, and so on. They were below the people who owned them, but they did get paid money. They were not slaves.
When we say ‘put someone out of their misery’, it usually means to kill them. The idea is that the person or thing is so weak and they’re suffering so much that it is a good thing to kill them, to put them out of their misery. It’s not always killing, but that’s the main meaning.
“Break the spell”. So a spell is magic. So when a wizard says, ‘Abracadabra!’ and waves his hand, he is casting a magic spell. When you “break the spell”, it means you are ending something special. For example, two people may be staring into each other’s eyes, because they are completely in love, and then somebody else walks into the room and the spell is broken. The two people stop looking at each other, and there is no longer love in the air.
Finally, “spit” is a verb and the past tense is “spat”. “Spit” means to throw water out of your mouth. It makes a sound like [spitting sound]. That’s the best impression I can do. In the UK, it is rude to spit around other people.
OK, so listen and enjoy!
The Mice Discuss, Chapter 2
Gentle was following his sister through one of the corridors of the house. She was walking very quickly, and he had to run to catch up. This was difficult, as he was carrying the bell, and it bumped on the floor as he ran, making a loud noise.
‘Crackle!’ said Gentle. ‘Why won’t you answer me?’
Crackle stopped suddenly and Gentle ran into her, knocking her to the ground.
‘You idiot!’ she cried. She pushed Gentle off her hatefully. ‘Keep that thing quiet. We’re near the entrance to the house. Are you ready?’
Gentle shook his head. He still hadn’t fully realised what was going to happen: he was going to put this bell on a cat without being noticed.
But that wasn’t the reason he was worried.
‘I won’t leave until you tell me what’s wrong.’
‘Wrong? You know what’s wrong. This hairy monster is living in our house, stealing our food. And you’re still the weak, soft little thing you always were.’
‘But you’ve changed.’
Crackle stared at him for a long time. Her eyes cut into him, and he had to look away.
‘Of course I’ve changed,’ she said, perfectly calm. ‘We don’t all have cute little lion friends to protect us from the bad beasts that lie in the dark.’
‘I wanted you to stay. But the family—’
Crackle leaned in close, making Gentle stop talking. He could feel her breath on his face. It smelled of something awful, but Gentle wasn’t sure what.
‘You didn’t want me. Now go, oh mighty mouse hero, and put that cat in its place.’
She grabbed him by the neck and threw him towards the light. Gentle turned around to say something, but she had already run away.
He felt sick to his stomach. When his family had left the Great Forest, he had been the only one to remain. His aunts and uncles didn’t believe he could look after her, and they refused to let her stay. They weren’t sure she would even survive the journey to the house, but they still thought that was safer than leaving her with Gentle, the weakest mouse who ever lived.
‘No, Gentle,’ he scolded himself. ‘You can’t think about that now. You have a job to do.’
He took a deep breath and pulled on his whiskers. The pain made him concentrate.
He moved towards the light of the kitchen, and that was when he realised the first problem. It was impossible to carry the bell without it ringing. He had to reach inside with his paw and hold the tongue, which meant he couldn’t move very quickly.
He reached the edge of the mouse hole and blinked. His eyes still couldn’t see that well in the darkness. He was used to the bright open space of the forest, and the house was darker than the inside of Crush’s cave.
Gentle sniffed. This must be the “kitchen”, the room where the humans kept their food. The smell was like no food he had eaten in the forest.
Beyond the kitchen was a dark corridor, and he felt fear just looking at it. He carefully took the bell, silencing it, and crawled forwards. His eyes slowly got used to the light, and he made out the shapes of strange objects. There were chairs and tables and bookshelves, but to Gentle they looked like nothing he had ever seen before. At one point, he thought he saw the cat and jumped, but when he moved closer he saw that it wasn’t alive. It was made of some hard, white material, painted with blue patterns. Next to it was a small mouse, made of the same thing, staring at him with lifeless eyes.
He had heard about the awful things humans surrounded themselves with, but he never imagined they were this horrible. He wondered if these had once been real animals, that the humans turned into evil statues. Was the mouse perhaps one of his relatives…? Gentle felt hopeless. He was shaking with fear, and he had to hold the bell hard to stop it from making a noise.
Crackle wanted to punish him. He had hurt her, more than he was ever aware. Why hadn’t he written to her, all those years? He went red as he remembered that part of his life. After his family left, the other mice in the Great Forest teased and bullied him, and he had been so miserable he could hardly think about anyone else.
He wanted to finish this and go home. The thing was, he couldn’t move quickly as long as he was holding the bell. A long corridor stretched before him, with nowhere to hide, and he decided it would be safer to run across it and ignore the sound. He would’ve heard the cat if it was near, right?
He ran across the floor, the bell banging loudly on the floorboards, and then out of nowhere, a paw fell on his tail.
A warm, heavy hand lifted him into the air, and the bell fell onto the floor and tinkled sadly. He looked face-to-face at a fat orange cat. Its hair was thick and heavy, which probably made it all the quieter in the house, and it had an evil smile on its face.
‘Well, well, well. A new little snack has come my way. And this one has a musical instrument.’
‘You are the cat,’ Gentle said miserably.
‘I have a name,’ she said. ‘You can call me Fiery, although you won’t live long enough to see my flames. You must be the mighty Gentle, who all the animals won’t stop talking about. I have heard great stories of your power. Am I really to believe that you made a lion bow down to you?’
Fiery held Gentle close to her eye, which shone like a flame. He could feel her warm breath on him. It smelled of fish.
‘It is true,’ Gentle said. He was sure he was going to die, but he might as well try. ‘And I have a hawk as a pet, and a frog as a servant.’
‘Ha! I don’t believe it. I always thought those mice were telling stories. If you’re so great, why did I catch you so easily?’
Gentle couldn’t respond to that. He just closed his eyes and waited to be eaten.
‘Do you know the reason this family decided not to get mouse traps?’
After a few seconds, Gentle realised she was waiting for his answer. ‘No. What’s a mouse trap?’
‘A small wooden object with a piece of cheese on it. And of course, those brainless little things are so hungry. They would run straight to the trap, full of excitement, and then SNAP!’
Fiery slammed her paws together on Gentle, taking all his breath away.
‘…snap?’ he said.
‘The trap falls on the mouse and kills it. But the family thought it would be cruel to use mouse traps. They thought it was kinder to let me do it. But I have stood and listened to the conversations those mice have, and in my opinion they deserve a bloody death for their stupidity.’
Gentle hadn’t heard much about humans, but Fiery’s story made no sense. ‘Why would humans care about how they kill us? I mean, we die either way.’
Fiery laughed bitterly. ‘You remind me of the little girl in my old house. She always asked stupid questions, too.’
‘You were in a different family?’ Gentle asked. In reality, he had no interest in the past life of this murderer, but as Fiery continued to talk, she held his tail less tightly.
‘Oh!’ Fiery raised her other paw to her head in a gesture of pain. ‘Yes, I was the beloved pet of a wealthy family. That is, until they got that beast. A tiny, happy, disgusting dog. I did what any kind, thoughtful animal would do. I put it out of its misery, and broke the spell that it held over them. I mean really, how could they love such a pathetic creature? You must know all about that. People hate you because you’re pathetic, don’t they?’
Normally, this would have struck Gentle’s heart. But he was already at the peak of his sadness. ‘Yes, I am hated throughout the forest.’
‘Exactly,’ said Fiery. ‘You represent everything that is wrong with the world. You are the weakness that must be killed. The little girl didn’t understand that. She made them get rid of me.’ Fiery stared into the distance, her face folding into anger, crushing Gentle with her paw. ‘Now I have to get by in this dark, dusty house, living on old scraps of fish and greasy little mice. I am going to very much enjoy eating you, though. You’ve got a nice smell.’
Fiery lifted Gentle to her mouth.
‘Wait!’ he cried. ‘Haven’t you ever considered moving to the wild?’
Fiery paused and looked at him with a cold yellow eye. ‘I may be cruel and strong, but really I am a house cat. I like the comfort of a warm fire and a bowl of milk. Even if it is old milk.’
‘We could be strong together. The stories about me are not completely true, but I did change the great lion Crush. He no longer has his teeth or claws. And yet he killed the King of Deer, because I told him to. Bright Eyes the hawk may not be my pet, but she does serve me—she is the one who flew me here.’
Fiery stared at him suspiciously. ‘And how did you manage that?’
‘I am not strong, but I am convincing with my words. Just as you are.’ He found a confidence growing in him that he had never experienced before. ‘Yes, you caught me, because I was without my allies. But together, we would be so powerful! Wouldn’t you prefer that to eating old fish in a poor person’s house? You are fat from the meat of my brothers and sisters, but once you have killed them all, what will there be for you? Will the humans still need you? They clearly feel no love for you, but the animals of the forest could at least feel fear.’
Fiery thought over Gentle’s words for a long minute. She threw the mouse between her paws as she did so, making sure to never let go of him. He felt her sharp claws brush against him more than once, but he said nothing.
‘And in the Great Forest… there are many other mice?’
Gentle smiled bitterly. ‘Yes, there are many, stupid mice.’
‘Three cheers for Gentle! Hip hip, hooray! Hip hip, hooray! Hip hip, hooray!’
Beneath the humans’ house a feast was going on. There was bread, cheese, raisins, apples… the food was piled high and the mice ate without fear.
When Gentle had come back with the bell, saying that the cat was gone, nobody believed him. But after Crackle went out and investigated the house, she declared that it was true, even though she didn’t look like she believed it herself.
As a result, the fantastical stories of Gentle’s bravery came back. In fact, they grew even sillier, and by sunrise they were telling stories of Gentle riding Crush into battle to defeat the King of Deer.
It was the first time in Gentle’s sad little life that he had been the centre of attention, and he didn’t know what to do with himself. At first, he said no, but as he ate and drank he enjoyed himself more and more, and finally started agreeing with the stories. He had missed his family, he realised.
Crackle stayed at the edge of the party and went to bed early. Gentle tried to talk to her but the other mice were pushing pieces of cheese in front of him, demanding he play a game called Cheesy the Rat King, where he had to put as much cheese into his cheeks as possible. And he couldn’t not play that, could he?
The next day, Gentle woke up with a huge headache and Crackle staring down at him.
‘Have fun last night?’
‘Yes, I did actually. Sorry, Crackle, I hope you don’t think I don’t care about… I didn’t really do anything that special. I just talked to the cat and convinced her to come back to the Great Forest with me.’
‘Funny. That’s not what you told the others.’
Gentle went red. ‘Things were a bit crazy last night. I wanted to explain…’
‘Well, you’ll be glad to know that your pet is here waiting for you.’
‘Oh! Bright eyes, you mean?’
‘And how did you convince her to bow down to you, I wonder?’
‘Crackle, you know, it’s not too late. You can still come home with me. I can’t make up for what I did, but maybe we can have a new life together? The forest is dangerous, but it’s a better life than here.’
Crackle looked like he had just spat in her face. ‘I don’t need saving, hero. I enjoy my life as a house mouse. I wouldn’t know what to do with all the strange events and strange animals in that Great Forest of yours.’
Without another word she picked him up in her arms and pulled him out of the mouse hole. The other mice were just waking up, and a few of them said a sleepy goodbye to him, but he was out of the door before he could reply.
‘Hey! I didn’t get to say goodbye to cousin Nosy.’
‘I’ll pass on your regards to him.’
Bright Eyes walked up to them as Gentle rubbed his eyes, which hurt in the daylight.
‘I’ve been waiting for hours,’ she said. ‘If you don’t get in my claw now I’ll leave without you and you’ll have to crawl back to the forest.’
Gentle opened his mouth to ask for a moment to say his goodbyes, but Crackle pushed the bell into his hands.
‘Since we don’t need this anymore, why don’t you take it home to remind everyone of how brave you are?’
And before Gentle could reply, Bright Eyes had picked him up in her claws and they were flying away. He turned around to see Crackle staring up at him, before crawling back inside the house.
‘So what’s all this about you being brave? Did you do a magic trick or something?’ Bright Eyes laughed at her own joke.
‘I’m not brave, just a mouse with too much to say.’
‘I’ll agree with that! Now, you’ll never guess what Speedy’s been up to since you were away…’
I hope you enjoyed the story. You can support the podcast by leaving a review on iTunes. Search for Easy Stories in English, give us a star rating, and say what you like about the show. It would really help us grow. Thank you for listening, and until next week.