Ferdy could see that Nadine was exhausted. He felt exactly the same. They had been searching for Oscar all night, for the fifth night in a row. The group had split up in teams of two, roaming the corridors, looking into rooms, asking caged mice if they had seen anything. But so far, none of them had found Oscar.
„We should get back“, Ferdy said. „Anica and Wulfric were pretty clear that no one should arrive after 5 am.“
Nadine agreed and they started to make their way to their home. Ferdy could hardly keep his eyes open, and the two of them almost sleep walked. When they turned a corner, Ferdy suddenly got the impression that something was wrong. But before he could react to the feeling, a net fell over his head. He squeaked in panic and tried to struggle free.
Five mice appeared. He had never seen them, and they did not look particularly friendly. They each grabbed a part of the net. While they were pulling him away, Ferdy tried to look for Nadine, but he could not even turn around. The strange mice completely ignored his pleas and questions.
After a few minutes they came to an area that Ferdy had never seen before. They arrived in a big space, where more mice were sitting around. Ferdy’s capturers did not stop there, but carried him a little further, into a small dark hole. There they put down the net and secured it tightly. Then they left, without another word or explanation.
Ferdy tried to move. He thought that maybe he could gnaw through the strings holding him down, but after what seemed like many hours he still had not made any progress. Before he could decide to give up, a mouse entered.
He was clearly the leader of the group, and he glared at Ferdy, his whiskers vibrating from anger.
“All right”, he declared. “We don’t have to play any games here. Just tell us where you brought them.”
Ferdy didn’t know what he had expected, but it was certainly not that.
“Where I what?”, he asked.
“Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about!”
Ferdy shook his head. “I really don’t.”
The mouse sighed. “Well, let me spell it out, then. Where did you and your clan bring our friends?”
That did not really clear up the situation.
“Why should we bring them anywhere?”, Ferdy asked. His confusion must have shown on his face, because the mouse hesitated for a moment.
“I don’t know why you took them, I just know that they are gone”, he said. “Are you saying you really didn’t have anything to do with that?”
“Yes, that’s what I’m saying!”, Ferdy said relieved. “I didn’t even know you guys existed a few hours ago!”
The mouse looked at him critically, turned around and left the room. After a few minutes he came back, together with one of the team that had captured Ferdy.
“Think about it very hard”, he said. “If you lie to us, Jeff will hurt your little friend. We don’t like doing that, but we are desperate.”
Ferdy felt a chill run down his spine. “Please don’t hurt Nadine!”, he pleaded. “I really don’t know anything about your friends.”
The two mice looked at him and at each other. Jeff whispered something and the other mouse nodded.
“Relax”, Jeff said. “We don’t actually have Nadine here. I don’t know where she went, but when we took you she disappeared.”
Ferdy was so relieved he almost started to cry. Jeff started to work on the net that held Ferdy down, and the other mouse stepped forward.
“Sorry about that”, he said. “We had to make sure. I’m Toby, by the way.”
A few minutes later Ferdy sat in the big room with all the other mice. They were a big group and he had not even tried to remember their names. Far more important was what they had to say.
“Mice have been disappearing for weeks now. We searched for them, and some of us found out about your group. We were so sure that you had taken our friends. Of course we could not think of a reason, but honestly, we found no alternative.”
Toby looked around with a sad expression on his face. “We started out with fifteen mice, now already three have gone.”
Ferdy could understand only too well how they were feeling. “We also lost someone. Nadine and I were searching for him when you attacked me.” There was a little bit of an accusation in his voice, but not much. “We saw a human take him, though, so we didn’t have to look for someone to blame.”
“The humans?”, Jeff said. “We never thought of that. But I think they would just bring rogue mice to the quarantine.”
“The what?”, Ferdy asked.
“The quarantine is a place where they bring animals to make sure they don’t have an illness”, Toby explained.
“Do you know where it is?” Ferdy was excited and hopeful. Maybe they would find Oscar soon.
“Sure”, Jeff said. “It is almost night time anyway. I can show you the way in a few minutes.”
Immediately, three other mice jumped up and went to a corner where some boxes were lying around. They opened them and took out some ropes and rags. It took them some time to prepare, but when they finally left Ferdy felt much better prepared than usual. They had given him one of the ropes, which he had thrown over his shoulder.
They moved in a coordinated fashion, always one of them in the front, to see if the path was clear, the others following when he gave the signal. It took much longer to move around like this, but Ferdy already felt safer.
“Here it is”, Jeff said. Ferdy looked down through a narrow hole and saw a few cages standing around in a dark room. He wanted to jump down, but Jeff held him back.
“Fasten the rope around your waste”, he said, and did the same himself. Then he handed the end of the two ropes to the other mice. “Now they can let us down and pull us back up again.”
Together, they went to the hole and climbed through. Their companions lowered them down onto the first rack gently. Ferdy looked around. “Oscar?”, he whispered.
At first there was no reply. Some of the mice in the cages lifted their heads, but other than that they did not react. “Oscar!”, Ferdy said a little louder.
Then he heard a squeal from the back of the rack. “Ferdy, I’m here!”
They climbed toward the voice and found Oscar in a cage on the bottom. “We’re here to rescue you”, Ferdy said grinning. Jeff and Ferdy lifted the lid of the cage and Oscar climbed out.
“I’m going up to the others”, Jeff said. “Then I can let down a rope for Oscar.”
When Ferdy fastened the rope around his friend, Oscar suddenly went stiff and started shaking.
“What’s wrong?”, Ferdy asked.
Oscar sniffed. “I’m afraid of falling. You know, when tried to climb up that curtain and fell it was really painful and scary.”
“Don’t worry about it. That’s what the rope is for.”
Ferdy had to convince him a few minutes longer, but finally he agreed and the mice pulled both of them up through the hole in the ceiling.
Shortly before 5 am they arrived at home. Anica and Wulfric were there, together with all the other mice. When they saw Ferdy and Oscar, their faces brightened and Sandy shouted, “You found him!”
They all huddled around Ferdy and Oscar in excitement.
“Where were you?”, Lisbeth asked Oscar. “And how did Ferdy get you out?”
“Well, we had a little help”, Ferdy said smiling. Jeff and the other three mice came in hesitantly.
“At first they abducted me, but then it turned out they were just looking for their friends, too, and they told me where to find Oscar.”
Introductions were made. Then Ferdy looked around. “Where is Nadine?”, he asked. Wulfric frowned. “Why are you asking us that? She was with you, remember?”
“But she wasn’t captured by Jeff”, Ferdy said. “We thought she came back here.”
“We haven’t seen her since yesterday”, Marcel pitched in. “We were worried for the both of you, but when you came in just now we thought Nadine might have stayed with the other mice.”
Ferdy looked at Jeff, who had a worried expression on his face.
“Ferdy already told you that we were also looking for our friends. Mice have been disappearing for weeks now. They are not in the quarantine, as Oscar, so we don’t think the humans took them. But we haven’t found a trace anywhere yet.”
“Well, we have to find them”, Anica said. “If your group and ours collaborate, we may have a better chance.”
In the same night, all mice of Toby’s clan came to meet with them.
“We need a map of all the areas that you have already searched, and those we still have to investigate”, Wulfric proposed. “Then we can form search parties again.”
It was decided and work groups were put together. Everyone was given a task and it was decided that at the end of every night, the clans would meet up and discuss their progress.
Ferdy was glad about everything that was done to find their missing friends, but it was hard for him to concentrate. All he could think of was that he should have done a better job, staying together with Nadine, making sure both of them got home safely. And as if that feeling of guilt had not been enough, for the first time in quite a while he felt a craving for a drink.