Using a match as a walking stick, the old mouse hobbled across the field. The circus was packing up. He had almost missed it. Dodging to evade the boots of stevedores who were pulling down the big top, the mouse let out a squeak, like the rusty wheel of a child’s toy. He panted until he got his breath back and scurried to the train where the animals were housed.
A lion stirred in its sleep, catching a whiff of the mouse on a breeze but, deciding the morsel was too small to bother with, rolled over and slept on.
I wonder what will happen to them all, the mouse wondered. Even the lions’ fate concerned him. They’ll be sold to zoos, most probably. Not ideal but better than the alternative. You couldn’t release circus animals back into the wild, after lives of captivity and servitude in the name of entertainment. They wouldn’t last five minutes. No, a zoo was their best prospect. A zoo was better than ending up as a rug or a coat, or a pair of shoes.
He skirted past the reptile carriage. Was Zorella the Snake Woman still performing her tired old act? Who would want to see her geriatric gyrations as she wound constrictors around her sagging curves? The mouse shuddered. She used to feed my cousins to her snakes. I’m not hanging around here to end up as a python’s supper.
At last, he came to the elephants’ carriage. He could hear the snores of the pachyderms from outside. Good. He could sneak in, locate his old friend and rescue him. Easy as that.
He squeezed through a knothole in a plank and found himself on the straw-strewn floor of the carriage. The smell of the elephants was overpowering. I used to be used to this, he reminded himself, holding his little hat over his snout. He tiptoed through the straw until he came to the stall at the end. He climbed up to the barred window and peered in.
A dark, amorphous shape was snoring in the shadows.
“Psst! Hey!” the mouse hissed as loudly as he dared. “It’s me! It’s your old pal, Timothy!”
The dark shape stirred.
“That’s right,” the mouse encouraged. “I’m back! I’ve come to take you away from all this. And not a moment too soon, it seems. The law’s changed, you see, pal; you probably know this already. After tonight, they’re no longer permitted to use animals in circuses. It’s going to be all acrobats and magicians from now on. Trapeze artists. Clowns. But no animals. Circuses are going cruelty-free! It’s wonderful!”
The dark shape sat up straight. The shadow of a trunk uncoiled and reached up to the bars. Timothy, recognising the gesture from the old days, hopped onto his old friend’s trunk.
“But I’m worried, see. What’s to become of you? I don’t think we should stick around to find out. I’m going to get you out of here.”
His friend’s head dipped in sorrow. Timothy heard the clank of chains.
“It’s all right! I’ve got a friend. A human. She’s nice. An animal rights activist. She’s stealing the keys from the ringmaster’s office right now. She’ll be here any minute. And then we’ll be able to fly away.”
Timothy’s friend shook his head so vigorously, the mouse had to hold on tight to the trunk.
“Everything’s going to be all right, my friend,” the mouse gave the trunk a reassuring pat.
“No,” said the elephant, speaking for the first time. He stood up, the chains around his feet rattling. He shook his head, dislodging the blanket that had covered him.
Timothy gaped in horror and surprise.
His friend’s magnificent ears, the very things that afforded him the power of flight and had made him the most famous elephant in the world, were gone. Docked by the circus owners in a senseless act of spite. Probably to prevent their competitors getting hold of him.
“No…” Timothy dropped to his knees and wept. “What have they done to you?”
Broken-hearted, the elephant slumped in sorrow. There was no magic feather to solve his problems this time.