THOMAS J. PRESTOPNIK
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Copyright © Thomas J. Prestopnik
2005 - 2014
All rights reserved.
www.TomPresto.com
Read Chapters One and Two from
GABRIEL'S JOURNEY
Back Cover Text
CHAPTER ONE
The Storm
Gabriel mouse and his friends enjoy a carefree existence in the field along
the country road--until the night of the wild summer storm! When a fiery bolt
of lightning destroys an abandoned barn across the road, their lives are
changed forever. But was the barn really abandoned after all?

Rumors have always existed of green-eyed beasts living there, but the mice
had never seen them and so never believed in them. Until now. Six
creatures have fled the burning barn like shadows in the night, secretly
crossing the road into Gabriel's field during the storm, and now live in the
nearby woods. Watching... Waiting...

Now that danger hunts them down, the mice realize that the rumors are all
too true. So Gabriel and a group of friends decide to search for a new home
behind the walls of an estate where life is said to be perfect. But the
situation is far from perfect before their journey even starts. Gabriel's best
friend Simon is falling under the spell of the beasts and puts the mice in
grave danger. Will Simon betray them all? Or will Gabriel succeed before all
is lost?
It swooped down upon the countryside with the speed of an eagle, charged
like an angry bull, then savagely attacked with a lion’s lethal fury. There had
never been a summer storm quite like it.

Lightning seared the midnight sky as thunder rocked the ground like
dynamite. Cold rain fell in gray sheets, ripped to shreds by the howling bitter
wind. A mass of billowing black clouds rolled in from the west and settled
over the field while sharp winds twisted tall grass into tangles and snapped
off tree limbs in the nearby woods.

Just below the surface, in a scattering of holes and small tunnels, the field
mice rolled themselves into snug furry bundles to ward off the night’s violent
frenzy. None of their tiny eyes saw what happened next.

A lightning flash sliced through the raucous clouds. It struck an abandoned
barn across the road from the mice’s field and blasted the rooftop to bits.
The wood burst into flames that quickly engulfed the walls and rafters.
Glowing timbers hissed and sputtered as grape-size raindrops pelted the
earth. Forked flames, glowing yellow and orange, snapped at the air like
snake tongues.

A wailing chorus erupted from inside the burning blackness, followed by a
riot of scratching claws and glowing green eyes ablaze in terror. The fiery
barn walls collapsed and crashed inward, shooting up a volcano of sparks
and glowing embers. Six black shadows fled the burning wreckage, their
cries drowning in the night’s fury. They escaped across the muddy road and
through the adjacent field, finally settling down in the dark refuge of the
nearby woods. The fur on their arched backs had been singed, their bony
legs splattered with blots of mud. Here they’d lick their wounds till a new
morning arrived.



The storm raged on for several more hours as the flames devoured the
crumbling barn, leaving it a tangled mess of burning beams. Not until shortly
before dawn did the lightning cease and the thunder die, and the rains
diminished to a drizzle. The first dull light of morning painted a gray edge
above the eastern horizon. The countryside was again a quiet place and the
mice at last found a few moments of restful sleep. Lingering night fears
slowly melted from their trembling limbs.

The remains of the barn lay as a smoking pile of sickly wet ash and charcoal
gray timbers. Its six previous inhabitants had crossed the road to find new
dwellings.

Somewhere closer to the mice.
Where they’d be watching…
Waiting...
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CHAPTER TWO
News From Across the Road
Morning arrived cool and wet as dewy blades of meadow grass sparkled in
the hazy summer sun. Last night’s storm swept away stale air that had been
lingering over the countryside for days, replacing it with a crisp earthy
fragrance. Sparrows, blackbirds and crows rocketed across the skies, while
squadrons of dragonflies zipped curiously around a tangle of cattails
towering beside a frog pond. Legions of grasshoppers bounded from one
thicket of weeds to the next.

Several field mice scampered wildly about, sloshing through the wet grass
or nibbling on patches of clover. Gabriel, a young mouse, stood on his large
hind feet, grasping a dandelion with his pinkish claws and licking cold water
droplets that dotted the stem. He was the size of a lemon with a tail almost
twice as long. Chestnut brown fur sprouted near the tip of his nose right
down to his hindquarters, with lighter patches of blond and white woven
along the sides and underneath. Two charcoal-black eyes were fixed above
Gabriel’s nose like shiny round buttons, and a pair of semi-oval ears
popped up near the tip of his head.

His friend Simon, a slightly smaller and sandy-colored mouse, nibbled on a
wild mushroom nearby. Simon’s scaly tail wiggled like a snake as he
grasped a bit of the mushroom with his sharp claws. His white whiskers
vibrated as he speedily chewed on the tasty morsel.

“What a terrific storm that was,” Simon said between mouthfuls. “But it sure
does wonders for these mushrooms. How they’ve grown!”

“Unfortunately the heavy rains weren’t kind to all things. I heard that Fred
and Doris were flooded out of their hole again,” Gabriel said. “Third time
this year!”

Simon bit off another tiny chunk from the mushroom. “That’ll teach them for
staying so close to the stream.”

“Doris likes living by the water, so I suppose they’ll find a new hole till the
other dries out,” Gabriel surmised. “By the way, have you seen Livingston
today?” he inquired, scratching behind his ear. “I haven’t had a glimpse of
our silly friend since the sun was high in the sky yesterday.”

Gabriel, Simon and Livingston were the best of friends who lived near each
other in the field. They made their home in small holes dug beneath a clump
of thorn bushes beside a grassy knoll. Many other mice lived scattered
about in the field situated between a vast expanse of dark woods to the
north and a lazy winding country road to the south. A narrow stream flowed
out of the woods into the field, where it branched off in two directions.
One part of the stream flowed south towards the road, gurgling underneath
an old wooden bridge before finally emptying into a nearby river. The other
branch ran east, channeling into a frog pond covered with fleshy green lily
pads and surrounded by an army of cattails. Several small trees shadowed
the pond, providing the resident bullfrogs plenty of cooling shade on
sweltering summer days.

Several other mice soon stopped by to chat with Gabriel and Simon during
their morning forage. Not surprisingly, the conversation bubbled with
remarks about last night’s storm. Some had believed the community of mice
would be flooded out of their homes, while others thought that a torrent of
mud and water would bury them all before sunrise. Everyone, though,
expressed joyous relief that the worst had passed.

“In all my days, I’ve never seen lightning dance so wildly in the clouds,” old
Thackery mouse said. He was a gray and black mouse with long white
whiskers who greedily nibbled on a blade of grass with his sharp front teeth.
“Why, the thunder echoed in my ears till this very morning!”

“And some trees on the other side of the stream nearly toppled over!”
Florence added as she excitedly bounced on her hind legs. Her skinny
reddish-brown body thinned out to an almost perfect point at the nose.
“What a completely dreadful night!”

The chattering went on for several uninterrupted minutes as each mouse
tried to top the other in his description of the storm. Monstrous! Awful!
Frightful! Horrific! The images flew as thick as flies around a bushel of
sweet corn.

“Has anyone seen Livingston?” Gabriel finally interrupted. “He hasn’t been
around since yesterday before the storm. What if he’s lost--or worse?
Maybe we should look for him.”

Simon carelessly twirled his tail. “Livingston is the last mouse in the field
you need to worry about. Trust me. Nothing fazes him. I’ll bet he squeaked
with delight last night when the storm let loose.”

Simon’s comment did little to comfort Gabriel, though he admitted that
Livingston did have a tendency to run off on a whim, most often in search of
an extra meal. “I just wish he’d behave more responsibly. He’ll end up in a
fix for sure one of these days. Mark my words.”

There were murmurs of agreement among the other mice just as a blackbird
fluttered upon the scene. He stretched his glossy wings after landing and
bobbed his head back and forth when stepping about. A set of piercing
yellow eyes, dotted black in the center, diligently scanned the ground for a
moment. Splashes of purple appeared on top of his head when the sun
reflected off him at just the right angle.

“Morning greetings to one and all!” he squawked.

“You’re in extremely high spirits today, Orville,” remarked Simon.

“And why not? The worms are especially plentiful. There’s nothing like a
rousing storm to bring the wigglies up to the surface,” Orville said. “My
family and I have already feasted.”

“Did the storm do any damage to your nest?” Florence asked.

“Certainly not! I am a master weaver,” Orville said indignantly. “Aside from
some minor maintenance, which I have already attended to, my nest is as
good as new.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” she replied while nosing for a quick snack.

“In the meantime, that has afforded me a chance to survey the damage
across the road,” Orville continued. “A rather cheerless sight, I’m afraid.”
Simon’s curiosity got the best of him, so he scampered over to Orville and
stood on his hind legs, staring up at the blackbird’s long narrow beak.

“Survey the damage, did you say? What damage, Orville? What are you
talking about?”

The bird flapped his wings again, causing the others to jump. “Don’t any of
you know what happened last night? Of course you can’t fly, so I shouldn’t
be surprised at your usual ignorance of matters far and away from here.”

“Oh, don’t keep us wondering!” Simon persisted. “Tell us what you know.”

The other mice echoed Simon’s plea, so Orville quickly gave in
disappointed that the mice weren’t up for guessing games.

“Very well. I’ll tell you,” Orville said. “That abandoned barn across the road--
that slouching old wreck of a dilapidated barn--burned to a cinder last night.
Struck down flat by a bolt of lightning!”

Gabriel’s interest was also piqued. “Are you telling the truth, Orville?”

“Of course! Why, I flew over the remains myself a short while ago. Nothing
left but a pitiful pile of charred and smoking timbers. Awful stench.”

The abandoned barn had been built over fifty years ago in a smaller field
across the road not far from the river. A few of the more adventurous mice,
on occasion, had viewed the structure when daring to wander near the
road. None, however, had summoned up the courage to cross the road and
examine the building up close. In fact, none of the mice in the field had ever
crossed the road for any reason. Their side of the field provided more than
enough food and space to keep them content for countless generations.

“Orville, did you see the actual lightning strike?” Gabriel inquired. “I thought
I heard an especially loud crash close by last night, but figured it was just a
noisy thunder clap.”

“That barn being splintered into a million bits is what you heard!” Orville
assured him. “Didn’t any of you even see the orange and red glow of the
roaring fire as it consumed the barn, plank by rotten plank?”

The mice avoided looking directly at Orville, being too embarrassed to tell
him that they had been hiding deep inside their homes during much of the
storm. The most anyone had seen was the pitch blackness of the
underground earth.

“But now that you mention it, I think I did hear a loud crash,” one of the mice
said, trying to put on a brave face.

“Me too,” another quickly added. “I’m--I’m sure of it!”

“Hmmm,” Orville said, casting a skeptical glance before he snapped up a
tiny slug crawling under him. “I suppose I shouldn’t expect you fur balls to
be out during a drenching storm, but haven’t any of you at least noticed the
smoke from across the road? That old barn is still puffing away and smelling
up the other field next to the river.”

The mice turned towards the south and gazed up at the sky. Orville was
right. Off in the distance against a hazy blue background, wisps of dirty gray
smoke drifted lazily into the air, intertwining like a brood of restless snakes.
Gabriel climbed a small mound nearby for a better look. Here the grass was
shorter and Gabriel stood on his hind feet, his nose pointed curiously in the
air as his charcoal eyes scanned the somber skies. The eerie sight
disturbed him so he quickly rejoined the others.

“There’s nothing left but a pile of burnt timber,” Orville continued. “I heard
all sorts of caterwauling coming from that area last night after the lightning
hit. Something must have been living in that barn, though I’m sure whatever
it was isn’t alive today.”

Old Thackery mouse ambled to the front of the group. “I’ve heard similar
noises from across the road late at night many-a-times. Strange things living
in that barn, I suspect. Or lived.”

“Beasts,” Orville whispered. He held his wings aloft and glared at the mice,
casting a groping shadow across them. “Prowling beasts with green eyes
that glow in the dark. Stealthy creatures they are too, sneaking about so
quiet... Quiet...” Orville lowered his head. “Then they pounce!” He snapped
his beak at them, causing the mice to jump backwards and squeak. Orville
squawked in delight, then folded his wings and snapped up another bug.

“Mind your manners!” Florence said, quivering slightly. “That wasn’t funny,
Orville. Why, I’ve heard stories about those beasts too. Dreadful stories.
Mice from the other side of the road have passed through our parts on
occasion and mentioned things. But I… I won’t go into details!”

Gabriel wasn’t easily intimidated by these rumors, but even he could recall
hearing strange high-pitched noises coming from the south on certain
nights. And the largest structure across the road in that direction was the
very barn Orville had so vividly described.

“Even if these beasts do exist, they’ve never given us any trouble,” Gabriel
said. “There’s a whole other field down that way near the river to keep them
occupied. No reason for them to cross the road into ours.”

“Maybe the lightning destroyed them,” Simon added. “How could any
creature escape such a terrible fire?”

“That’s if they ever existed to begin with!” a voice scoffed in the distance.
Suddenly Livingston bounded into the crowd and squeaked with delight
when noticing he had startled his companions. The chubby charcoal-gray
mouse was famous for both his appetite and his less-than-serious nature.

“Just where have you been hiding, Livingston?” asked Gabriel. “No one has
seen you since yesterday. I thought you might have gotten lost in the storm.”

“Gabriel, you worry too much,” he said, wiggling his nose. “I sneaked out
early this morning to a secret blackberry bush I found close to the pond.
The rain knocked many of the berries to the ground, so I had a tasty
breakfast and took a nap before returning here,” he explained. “There was
no need to be concerned about me. It’s you I’m concerned about, believing
in those stories of beasts. What utter nonsense!”

Orville traipsed over to Livingston and flapped a wing right in front of his
nose. “Insolent mouse! Stuffed with blackberries and thinks he knows better
than I! Well, my furry friend, you can believe in the stories or not, but I’d
trust my instincts if I were you. There’s been something unsavory dwelling in
that barn for as long as I can remember. The only question now,” Orville
softly said with a glint of a warning in his eyes, “is what’s become of it?”

“Claptrap!” Livingston insisted. “I can understand Simon and some of the
other mice believing in ridiculous tales, but I thought you had a sharper
mind, Orville. Been flying under the hot sun too much lately?”

Orville snapped his beak at Livingston. “Believe as you wish, foolish one.
But don’t say you weren’t warned, mouse!” With that, Orville stretched his
wings and took to the skies, squawking a goodbye as he flew out of sight.

In spite of Livingston’s arguments to the contrary, most of the other mice
sided with Orville. They tended to believe in the existence of some type of
beast inhabiting the barn before the storm hit, though none had actually
seen the creature. And that suited the field mice just fine.

By noontime, the skies turned brilliant blue, the air warmed comfortably and
all the talk of beasts and barns and lightning storms had faded. The mice
played in their field and later foraged for blackberries after Livingston
agreed to reveal his secret spot. No one even paid attention to the traces of
smoke still lazily drifting up from the south.


Late that night, when the field lay still and silent except for the monotonous
chirping of the crickets, Florence busily cleared some tiny pebbles and old
weed roots from her living quarters. She felt restless and unable to sleep
and hoped a bit of cleaning might tire her. When she heard a rustling noise
in the grass outside her hole, she thought one of her friends was about to
pay her an evening visit.

Florence abandoned the small pile of pebbles and roots she had gathered
and scurried to the entrance of the hole. She poked her pointy nose into the
darkness and felt a brush of cool air against her whiskers. A first quarter
moon dipped low in the west. Florence detected a strange rumbling noise
nearby, and for some uneasy reason felt she had better duck inside. A black
shadow suddenly passed over the entrance, temporarily blocking the moon
from her view. A rustling in the grass continued. The rumbling noise now
sounded like a low steady growl. Then the shadow passed and all was still.
The moon reappeared and the crickets chirped on.

Florence shivered with fright, retreating to the deepest recesses of the hole
where she lay down and curled up into a ball. A nightmarish sleep finally
overcame her as she shut her eyes to the dreadful night.