I yanked the comb through the tangled mass one last time, but my hair still stuck up all over like a used toothbrush. Flicking a few bits of dirt from my trews and tabard, I checked my reflection in the shard. I poked out my tongue. My mirror image did the same. Cheeky thing. I grinned and stomped off to the kitchen. Mum was already washing up her dishes. I sat down and ate the two bulging blackberries, a thimbleful of milk and a chunk of stale bread before rummaging around in the basket for something else. I was always hungry. I grabbed a walnut and scoffed the whole thing. It was bigger than my head. I needed the protein if I was going to set the record for Tallest Miniscule Ever. After I’d cleaned up I started to sweep the kitchen. Even though the door was kept closed at night there was always a lot of dust the next day. Mum went outside to collect more water. I offered to help but she said it was too dangerous. It wasn’t just the weather or the bugs, she warned me – there were far worse dangers out there. I’d heard so many scary stories growing up, but they didn’t faze me one bit (except for the time when Mum woke up next to a fat wriggling worm – that was just disgusting.) Mum came back with two full buckets and a look on her face that I hadn’t seen in ages. Right at that moment, I knew. I waited until she had put the water by the basin then threw my arms round her neck. She chuckled and hugged me back, her grip a little too tight, making my stomach go all fluttery. Something was definitely up, and it could only be one thing. She had finally decided. I pulled away, my eyes the size of seeds, watching her as she mouthed one single word. ‘Tomorrow,’ she said. I filled the air with squeals and fist pumps. Tomorrow! Just one more sleep and I’d be off on my first Seeking Trip. Despite her fears, Mum knew it was important for me to go to the Outer World. I was getting older, and with just the two of us she’d soon need me to help with foraging. Mum went foraging every day, and not just for food. She looked for useful bobs too – things the Biggies left behind. Papers, packets, bottle tops, ring pulls, cloth, wires, wood, plastic, buttons, paperclips, and other bobs we didn’t have names for. The best bob Mum ever found was ‘A Pocket Guide to Birds’, which she’d spotted by the riverbank. It had been my eighth birthday present and I had read it every day since. On the front cover was a Peregrine Falcon, and inside on page fourteen was a detailed drawing with a bunch of fascinating facts. I knew them all by heart. I liked to lay down in the middle of the pages right along the spine. My head would be at the top, my feet nearly touching the bottom, and if I spread my arms wide, I could touch the sides too. I’d stretch out all my limbs and stare up at the moss ceiling trying to imagine what it would feel like to be a Peregrine Falcon. I’d watch the Biggies below without being afraid of them. I’d swoop down and find the best bobs, then poo on their heads for a laugh, cackling as I curled my claws and flew off. But Mum said that even Peregrine Falcons weren’t safe from Biggies. Once I’d done my chores and studies, I read a few pages of my book before dinner. The sun soon vanished so Mum lit the taper and we talked for a bit, then I went to bed. Mum followed to kiss me goodnight, even though I’d stopped being afraid of the dark ages ago. She shrugged and headed back to the kitchen with the taper, whispering, ‘Don’t let the bed bugs bite.’ As I stretched out on my mat, I tried to see the front cover of my bird book in the blackness, but it was too dark. I pictured it instead, wondering if I would see any birds in the Outer World. I was so excited, I was sure I’d never sleep, but I did. When I woke, it was late morning. I was annoyed I’d slept in on my first Seeking Trip, so I hurriedly washed and dressed before gobbling my banana slice and hazelnut. I wanted to have as much time exploring as possible – there were so many things I wanted to see and do. Mum helped me into my safety suit, strapping the rubber board to my chest and tucking my messy hair into the acorn cup. I put on my backpack in case I found any bobs. Looking in the mirror, I felt like a proper Miniscule. As we left our pod, I took a deep breath of fresh air and felt the sun flushing my skin. I could hear the rush of the river beyond and the howl of the wind above. There was even the taste of salt in the air. Everything seemed new and fascinating. Mum gave a shout from up ahead, hidden from view by the tall thick stalks. I followed her path, waddling like a duck in my armour. After an hour of walking, we came to a wire fence and climbed through. There it was – the Clearing. Mum would only go to the Clearing once a month because that was when the Biggies tidied up. They would come in the morning to cut the grass, pick up the animal poo and put the throwaways into dumpers. These were left by the fence, so it was easy for Mum to forage in them. I thought she’d ask me to help, but instead she placed her hands on my shoulders and smiled softly. ‘Always be safe,’ she said. I nodded until I thought my head would fall off. Then she walked away. I ran in the opposite direction, on and on and on, not sure of where I was going but not caring either. As I flew through the grass, I grabbed hold of a hanging branch to stop myself and turned to see behind me. Mum was a tiny speck. For the first time in my life, I was alone in the Outer World. I looked around. There were some high wooden logs sticking out of the ground, like trees but with no tips, branches or leaves. Instead, there were metal chains hanging between them. I walked further, under a long piece of curved metal with steps at one end, then past some rubber boards dangling from more chains. Mum had told me that the Clearing was where Mini Biggies would play. It didn’t look much fun to me. I thought I might climb up and try to figure out the game, but a sudden shriek made me stop. I slowly turned to face a towering oak tree and the source of the noise. An enormous, feathered beast stood in front of me, screeching and struggling against something, a kind of blue bob that was tangled in its feet. I didn’t move, hoping that the creature wouldn’t see me. I watched it fight against the thing on the floor – it seemed to be trapped. The animal had sharp claws, a long beak and eyes like glass beads, dark brown with yellow rings. I let out a gasp. It was a Peregrine Falcon. It must have heard me as it swiftly spread its wings out wide. They were so huge they blocked out the sun. I held my breath, staying completely still. He continued to strain and squeal, the blue cloth flapping in the grass. He seemed more bothered by the bob than by me. As I looked closer, I could see a white cord wrapped around his talons. How could I set him free? I thought of shouting for Mum, but I knew it would only frighten him more. How else could I get her attention? I searched around for ideas, my brain whirring with thoughts, but it was no use. I needed to rescue the bird now, before he got hurt – or before he hurt me. This was my chance. The chance to prove how brave a Miniscule I was. “A Pocket Guide to Birds” said that Peregrine Falcons were excellent hunters, but it didn’t mention how to escape being hunted. His massive open beak dived towards me and, without even thinking, I jumped. With all my strength, I pushed my whole-body forwards, stretching my arms out, falling between the bird’s feet and right on top of the blue bob. I didn’t move. Above me, I could feel the tugs and tears of his claws, his cries loud with panic. He was going to rip me to shreds or carry me away with him, but there was nothing I could do. I spread my arms and legs as wide as I dared and waited. Then I heard a snap. I stayed still, my eyes clamped shut. It took me a while before I realised the bird had flown away. A few soft feathers were all that remained, as well as the bob beneath me. I had done it! The bird had escaped! Eventually, I raised my head and looked around before checking my body. I was a bit muddy but unharmed, and I was no longer afraid. Instead, I felt proud. Even though the bird was dangerous, I’d managed to save it, and I had the bob to prove it. I rolled it up as tightly as I could and put it in my backpack. By the time I reached the Clearing, the sunlight had dimmed. Mum was by the dumpers. I started sprinting towards her. She ran towards me too, and we nearly fell as we hugged each other. ‘What were you doing? Where did you go? What have you done?’ she asked, gripping my shoulders. Her voice was high, and her eyes were as big as buttons. She had seen the Peregrine Falcon fly away. I wanted to pretend I’d been walking, but Mum knew me too well. She could always tell when I was doing a fib, so I took out the blue bob and showed it to her. ‘There was a bird trapped in this,’ I said, ‘I helped it to escape.’ Mum looked at me, her mouth as wide as her eyes. She carefully inspected what I’d brought back, then unzipped her own bag and took out a piece of paper. We both pulled at the edges and read the story on the page. Next to the writing was a picture of some Biggies. They were wearing the blue bobs on their faces. ‘You did the right thing.’ Mum sighed, hugging me again. I nestled my face into her jumper, glad the day was finally over. The next morning back at the pod, Mum said she had a surprise for me. Outside, she had hung the blue bob between two plants to make my very own hammock. I rolled inside and stared up at the sky, knowing my feathered friend would be flying free.
About the Author
Rachel Wade is a copywriter and fiction author based in North Yorkshire. Having developed a passion for language from a young age, Rachel went on to study for a BA and MA in English before working in a variety of sectors including marketing and teaching. A keen freelance journalist, Rachel has contributed to several print and digital publications as well as launching a webzine and personal blog. Following the completion of her first novel during lockdown, Rachel is now working on two further novels alongside a short story collection.