Table of Contents
To my wonderful wife who has always had faith in me and graciously endures my artistic ways, and to my beautiful daughter who always wants daddy to tell her a story, and my father-in-law (who might just be my biggest fan), and Judy who reminded me some sentences actually need commas, and especially to God who imbued me with a creativity that makes stories pour out of me: Thank you—forever—thank you.
This book is for everyone who still holds a corner of their heart open for child-like wonder. I sincerely hope you enjoy.
Hickory Dock lived in a cottage on the outskirts of a town he never knew the name of. He didn’t even know the cottage was called a cottage. To him, it was simply the world. You see, he was a mouse. But not just any mouse. He was the great great great great great great great great grandson of the original Hickory D. Dock. The one of whom such a great fuss was raised all those years ago with him running up and down a clock and it striking one and all that. However, Hickory was not allowed to hear that tale, for in it lay a great secret.
Hickory Dock, a Cat, and the Clock
One spring morning Hickory Dock woke to find that his Uncle Trickery (or Unk as he preferred to be called) had already gone from the world. Aunt Plumella had quietly made breakfast, eaten, and gone to the attic before Hickory was awake—as she commonly did when Unk was away. She’d left only mouse crumbs for Hickory to eat, and considering the fact that crumbs left by humans are very tiny—and mice eat those like a meal—you can imagine how small mouse crumbs would be. It’s really not much food at all, but Hickory ate it joyfully.
Looking up he said, “And thank you for the food I gratefully receive today.” He said it to the air, but not to Aunt Plumella. Hickory knew she didn’t care much for him. She hardly ever spoke to him—and never when Unk was away. But even still he always did his best to treat her with respect and follow the rules of the family Dock.
It was cold that morning, and a great wind kicked up outside the world, shaking the walls and leaving Hickory scared. Unk once told him, “There is great danger outside the world, and you are too small, too weak, and too… gray to face it. Maybe one day you’ll be brave enough to come with me beyond the world, but I doubt it.”
“I am brave,” Hickory said.
“No. You only think you are. That’s not bravery. That’s silliness.”
The conversation had hurt his feelings and stuck with him, but today he wondered if Unk had been right. Maybe I’m not brave. That wooshing and creaking sound seems like it would be very dangerous, and I don’t think I could be brave in that at all.
The world, as Unk called it, was an old run down cottage that a human family had abandoned years ago. It had an attic. Aunt Plumella called it her personal space, and Hickory was not allowed to disturb her there, no matter what. There were two bedrooms upstairs, a study downstairs, a kitchen with an old wood burning stove that Hickory had never seen a fire in, and a door that had never been opened in as long as he could remember. The windows had been covered long ago, so no hint of sunlight made its way through. As human houses go it was shabby, but for a small family of mice, it was almost large enough to be called a world. So, Hickory never questioned his uncle about it.
The wind wracked the world a second time, and something from outside struck the kitchen window. A shard of glass broke away and plummeted to the floor only inches from Hickory. It shattered on impact and glass flew in every direction. A few pieces struck Hickory and stuck in his fur. He was thankful none of the strange flying bits landed in his eyes.
“What’s that?” Hickory said as dust began floating like magical little fireflies through the beam of light that newly shone through the window. “It’s twinkly!” he said with joy, and ran to the place on the wall where the beam of light landed. It illuminated a dreary patch of wooden floorboard. When Hickory reached it, it was unimpressive. He followed the dancing bits of light with his eyes and traced them back to the hole in the window.
“That’s not dreary.” He began bounding up the cupboards to the counter and on toward the window sill. He had nearly reached the bright, shining, joy-inspiring opening when—
“Hickory Dickory Dock! What do you think you are doing?” It was Unk’s bellowing voice. Hickory turned and Unk was standing on the counter, arms crossed, scowling at him.
“I’m… uh… well, I was just….” He pointed to the window. “That part of the world broke off. It almost fell on me, and I was just going to—”
“What, Young Mouse, are the four rules of the family Dock?”
Hickory answered in a dejected monotone. “Don’t leave the world; obey Aunt and Unk, especially Unk; go to sleep when I’m told to; and never go near the clock.”
“Right. And what were you about to do?” Unk unfolded his arms and tugged smugly at his whiskers.
“I wasn’t going to go outside!” Hickory said.
“That is not what it looked like to me, Young Mouse.”
“I wouldn’t leave the world. I was just going to have a peek. It looked—” He wasn’t sure of the right word. “Pretty… I think.”
Unk’s scowl deepened. “Hmm. Well, that’s not pretty. Pretty is… something else altogether. I’ll just have to find a way to block that up. You could have fallen out of the world. It’s a good thing I came back for my thimble, or you may have gotten trapped out there. Who knows what would have happened to you then?”
Hickory hadn’t thought about that. That’s a dangerous not-pretty thing. I guess it’s good Unk came home when he did.
Unk blocked the opening with a very large old brown shoe. It had long black laces, and what Unk didn’t notice was how those laces dangled out the hole in the window and whipped around in the wind. He gave Hickory a lecture about the four rules of the Family Dock, and when he finished, he added a fifth, forbidding Hickory to go near the shoe as well. When Hickory asked for the umpteenth time what a clock was, Unk responded as he always had. “You’re not allowed to know until you’re older.” Then he left the world through a small hole in the floor that Hickory was also not allowed to go near.
Hickory was alone again. How am I supposed to stay away from what I can’t even recognize to avoid? He sat on the kitchen floor remembering the dancing light. It was pretty. Even if was dangerous.
Hickory heard a bumping sound and looked up. On the window sill, the shoe moved.
“What in the world?”
It moved again. This time more forcefully. It bumped against the broken window again and again. Hickory backed away. He’d nearly made it out of the kitchen when there was a great scratching sound, and the shoe pulled tight against the glass. Spidery lines worked their way through the glass away from the shoe, and suddenly the window shattered into a hundred pieces and the shoe was yanked outside. Hickory heard something with claws scrabbling against the outside wall of the world, and then two pointy ears peeked over the sill, then two eyes, whiskers, a clawed paw, and another clawed paw. It was a cat. Hickory had never seen a cat before, but mice are instinctively afraid of cats. And it’s a good thing too, because cats think mice are fun to eat.
“Hullo, little mousy,” the cat said. “You look more fun than a smelly old shoe.” The cat launched itself from the window sill and charged after Hickory.
Naturally Hickory ran with all his might down the hall, passing over, under and around obstacles the cat could not avoid. He sprinted up the stairs and banged on the door to Aunt Plumella’s attic. “Aunt Plumella!” he called, and “Aunt!” he shouted, but she would not answer.
The cat started up the stairs and Hickory was trapped.
He felt bad that he was about to disobey Aunt and Unk, but it was either that or find out what cats do to mice. So, he reached under the door, and pushed, and squeezed, and shimmied until he popped out the other side. Just then the cat collided with the door.
The cat reached a large paw under the door and did its best to find him.
When Hickory was sure the cat couldn’t get in, he turned away. He was in a wide room filled with the odd kind of knickknacks that people keep in attics. One in particular so instantly held his interest he almost forgot about the cat. The object was made of cherry wood, was nearly as tall as a man, and was built like a cabinet with a big opening cut in the front. Inside the opening was a long brass pendulum. Above the opening it looked kind of like a house fit for a mouse, but where Hickory would have expected a door there was only a round white part with numbers on it, and what looked like two shiny, metal whiskers. One was fat and the other was long and skinny. By now you’ve probably guessed what it was, but Hickory Dock had never seen a grandfather clock before.
“Meow, Mousy!” the cat called from the other side of the door, but Hickory ignored it. Instead he began making his way toward the wooden thing with whiskers.
“Aunt Plumella! I’m sorry! I had to come in. There’s a…” I don’t know what it’s called… “Well, I just had to.” He expected that she would appear any moment and scold him for invading her personal space, but minutes passed and no Aunt Plumella. There were a great many interesting things around the attic: an old wooden train set that Hickory was immediately fond of, a rocking horse, a box of old books. Everything was interesting, but nothing so much as the clock. [_It’s like it’s calling to me. I’ll explore that first. Maybe Aunt Plumella is somewhere near it. _]Hickory made his way toward the clock past knickknacks and boxes.
Now, Hickory was the great great great great great great great great grandson of the original Hickory Dickory Dock. And when a mouse like Hickory bears the same name as all ten generations before him, mice call that mouse an Eighth Great. Eighth Greats are very special, and always enthralled with clocks.
As Hickory approached the clock, the brass pendulum started swinging back and forth, and the skinny whisker started moving at a clipped pace around clock face. When he got closer, the clock struck eleven and played a loud but beautiful melody. Hickory had never heard a clock strike any time. It made him smile. “Well, that’s a beautiful sound.” [_And loud… funny I’ve never heard it before. _]
Just then Aunt Plumella appeared from a bookshelf near the top of the clock. She was holding her ears at the sound. “What caused that?” she asked, and the answer presented itself straight away.
“Aunt Plumella!” Hickory shouted as soon as the chimes died away.
Hickory expected Aunt Plumella to be angry, but when she spoke she sounded scared. “Hickory Dickory Dock! You’re not allowed to be in here!” She quickly leapt from the shelf to the clock and scurried down to meet him. “You’re all right then aren’t you, My Young Mouse?” she gasped. “Look at you. Is that glass in your fur?” she began carefully picking it out then brushing her paw over his fur with motherly care.
“I don’t know what it is. That’s part of why I’m in here. A piece of the world almost fell on me, and then after that a big pointy-eared thing with whiskers called me mousy and started chasing me.”
“A cat! A cat got in the cottage?”
“What’s a cat?” he asked, then wondered something more. “What’s a cottage?”
Plumella waffled. “I mean… the world, Dear… and what you met was a cat. They eat mice. That is all you need know about them. Now, we’d better hurry and get you out of here. You know this is my private space, and you’re not allowed in here.”
“I know. I’m sorry, but the cat chased me up the stairs. It’s outside the door right now.”
“Oh dear! But, you can’t stay in here.” She folded her hands anxiously and looked around for some clue of what to do.
Hickory was confused. Aunt Plumella had just been kinder to him than she ever had been. But, she’s going to make me go back out with the cat? He was instantly more sad than he could ever remember being.
A look of resolve came over Plumella. “Hickory, you’re going to have to go.”
“But cats eat mice!”
Plumella smiled a bittersweet smile and caressed his whiskery cheeks. “Don’t fret, My Little Mouse. There’s no going back out there. With a cat in the cottage, you’re going to have to go outside.”
His voice filled with awe. “Outside?”
“Yes, Hickory. Your uncle is going to be very angry with me… with us, but—” Across the room a little Christmas bell jingled. Plumella was suddenly frantic. “Oh, Hickory, there’s no time to explain! Quick! Follow me!” She ran to a nearby crack in the floorboard, gave it a tug, and a small section pulled away to reveal a passage. She took a small satchel from a hiding place inside and draped it over Hickory’s shoulder. It’s something of note that mice, as you probably know, do not wear clothing like humans. They wear their fur. So, what a satchel was, and why Plumella was putting it on him, Hickory could not have guessed.
“Take this, Hickory. You’ll need it.” She looked at him tenderly. “Oh, Little Mouse, I’m afraid many things will be confusing for you. Whatever happens, know that I love you, and I did my best to keep you safe.” The bell jingled again. “Hurry, Hickory! Go! Follow the passage to the light!” With that she pushed Hickory through the opening and closed it up again.
He was alone in the dark, and his mind was spinning. Aunt Plumella loves me? I thought she couldn’t stand me. _]A creaking came from the floor back in the attic. [_I should hurry like she said, but it’s very hard to see in here.
Hickory followed the passage until it turned sharply downward. There he lost his footing and tumbled through a hole in the floor. He plummeted a long way until he landed in a small bundle of hay and twigs. When he regained himself he noticed glittering bits of dust passing through a beam of light farther down the passage. He followed the beam like he had before, only this time he’d been told to go outside. He slowly approached the opening and took a deep breath. With that, Hickory Dock stepped outside the world.
Hickory Dock, and the Outside World
The winds had died down and the sun was shining. It took a moment for Hickory’s eyes to adjust to the brightness. When they did, it was like he was seeing the world for the first time. In fact, he very nearly was seeing the world for the first time, but he didn’t know that the whole outside was actually called the world. To him it was simply outside and somewhere he’d never been. He climbed atop a rock and looked around. Everything was new to him: the brilliant blue sky, the forest of grasses lolling to and fro, the dandelion puff growing a short distance away. That intrigued him. He tried to climb it and the stem bent, dropping him to the ground and pulling the puff down on his head. White puff tufts danced into the air all around and were carried off by the breeze.
“Neat!” Hickory said, and looked around for another one, but froze when he heard a noise.
Click-thump… click-thump… click-thump…
He scurried behind the rock, looking this way and that for any sign of the noise maker. [_That sounds dangerous. _]He waited silently, his whiskers twitching, until a little butter-cream colored mouse crept out of the grass. “All right, guys! You aren’t funny!” she called out.
It’s a girl mouse!
“I know there’s no such thing as a clock troll.”
Riotous laughter came from somewhere inside the grass. “Ha ha ha ha! She was so scared!”
“Heh heh heh…Yeah! Ha ha!”
The first voice made a loud whooping sound and both chuckling voices trailed off into the distance.
The girl mouse sighed and rolled her eyes. “Brothers….” She walked to the bent dandelion puff and sighed again. “I know more about clocks than either of you,” she huffed. “And I wasn’t scared.” She blew on the last remaining dandelion tuft and it lifted into the air, floating up and around Hickory’s rock. He couldn’t help but watch its dancing flight. What he didn’t notice was the butter-cream mouse chasing after it. The breeze shifted and the tuft came quickly down, alighting on the tip of Hickory’s nose. Forgetting that he was hiding, he tried to keep it balanced on his nose, walking this way and that.
When the girl mouse rounded the rock trying to keep up with the tuft the two of them collided—nose first—and tumbled to the ground. That is how Hickory Dock came face to face with the indomitable Chickory Tock—the Eighth Great granddaughter of the very important, but less well known, Chickory Tickory Tock.
Chickory quickly regained her feet. “Hey, Mouse, what are you doing here?”
“Um… I’m… well, I—”
“Not a big talker, huh?”
“No. I am. I like to talk a lot. I’m just not really sure what I’m doing outside. Other than avoiding a cat.”
Chickory’s eyes got wide. “Cat?” She was instantly alert to every movement, every sound, waiting to decide which way to run.
“It’s okay. He’s not here. He’s still inside the world, and he doesn’t know I’m outside.”
Chickory scrunched up her face. “You’re kind of an odd mouse.”
Hickory had no idea what she meant. “I am?”
“Yeah… well, why is it okay if a cat’s in the world?
Hickory chuckled. “Because we’re outside.”
Chickory shook her head and looked Hickory over. “Where are you from, Mouse?”
Hickory could tell the girl mouse didn’t understand him. If I say ‘the world’ she’s just going to look at me weird again. He pointed to the cottage. “In there. My name’s Hickory. What’s yours?”
Chickory Tock was not what you would call a push over or easily fooled. She crossed her arms and squinted at him. “You’re as not-funny as my brothers.”
Hickory was confused, but intrigued by her response. “You just got mad at me. Why?”
“You’re saying your name is Hickory and you live in the old cottage. Next you’ll tell me your last name is Dock.”
Hickory was genuinely concerned. “Would that be bad?”
Chickory stepped right up to him. “Listen, Mouse—whatever your name is—it’s not funny to joke about the family Dock. Are you a tree mouse? They’re the only ones who might think that was funny.”
Hickory was beginning to think he might not like this mouse. “My name is Hickory Dock, and you’re a rude girl-mouse. I told you my name and asked for yours, but you didn’t answer and instead got mad at me for no good reason.”
Chickory raised her voice. “If you’re Hickory Dock why don’t you go back in that cottage and open the clock?”
Hickory raised his voice too. “If you mean back in the world, I can’t. There’s a cat in there and my Aunt Plumella was really scared of me staying in the attic. So she sent me outside!” Hickory frowned and his voice softened. “And I don’t know what a clock is. Unk never told me.”
Chickory stopped, and her voice dropped. “Your… Aunt Plumella?”
“Yes!” he said sharply then noticed her change. “Why’d you get all calm and weird when I said her name?”
“Plumella Dock was my mom’s best friend. She went by her middle name in public. Only the mice closest to her called her Plumella. She died before I was born, but mom talks about her all the time.”
Hickory’s brow furrowed. “Plumella’s not dead. She just lives in the world… in the attic.”
Chickory shook her head, and pointed to the cottage. “In there?”
Chickory sighed. “I don’t know about you, Mouse.”
“You don’t. And I don’t know about you because all you’ve done is ask me questions, and you still haven’t told me your name.”
“You aren’t kidding about being Hickory Dock, are you, Mouse?”
“No. I’m not.”
Chickory bit her lip in consternation. “My name is Chickory Tock—Chickory Tickory Tock.”
Hickory smiled. “Our names rhyme. My middle name is Dickory.
Chickory sighed again and sat down. “That’s what I thought you were going to say.”
Hickory sat too. “You’re being weird again.”
“I am.” Chickory combed her whiskers pensively. “We need to go see my dad.”
“Well, the thing is… if you’re really Hickory Dock, you’re supposedly dead too.”
Hickory started at that. “But I’m right here. I mean I’m—”
Chickory jumped up and covered his mouth. “Shhh! Listen.”
A chaotic whistle came from just around the side of the cottage, and Hickory recognized it instantly. Pulling her hand from his mouth, he whispered, “That’s my Unk. He whistles like that when he’s out of sorts. He’s bound to be really angry with me for going outside the world. We’ve gotta hide!”
Chickory led Hickory into the grass and found a particularly thorny weed that had grown very thick and large. They crept underneath its leaves and sat quietly. From there they could see the opening Hickory had come through and the rock where they had first met. A moment later Unk rounded the corner of the cottage. When his feet came into view he was walking this way and that, searching, and trying to keep his cool.
“Where is that little brat?” he said and kicked a pebble. “Ouch!” he grabbed his foot, and hopped around. Pebbles are very large if you’re a mouse. Eventually he sat down, rubbed his toes, and grumbled, “Well played, Plumella my dear.” Unk started mocking Plumella’s voice. “‘Oh, there was a cat,’ and ‘Oh, Hickory made the clock start ticking. I had to send him outside or he might have found out.’ Humph!” This time he picked up the pebble and threw it in frustration. It landed very close to Chickory, who did her best not to move a muscle.
“If anybody sees that boy… if anybody guesses who he is… Bah!” Unk got up and marched into the grass. As he walked past the weed where they were hiding, he muttered, “I’ll say he’s crazy. I’ll say he lies. Ugh. I’d better find him before anyone else does.”
Chickory ever-so carefully peeked from under the leaf to get a good look at Unk before he got away. She almost gasped, but held her hand over her mouth and waited until she was sure Unk wouldn’t hear. “Oh my goodness!”
“Unk is Trickery Trickery Dock?”
“Yeah… my Uncle Trickery. He makes me call him Unk.”
Chickory popped out from beneath the weed. “We’ve gotta go see my dad.”
Hickory tentatively stood up. “Is it far? I’ve never left the world before, and Unk always told me outside was dangerous.”
Chickory shook her head and smiled. “It is kind of far, but before we go, I need to clear something up or you’re gonna confuse people.” She pointed to the cottage. “That is called a cottage. This…” and she swept her arms wide to encompass all that surrounded them, “is called the world.” She frowned a little. “Apparently you’re uncle isn’t an honest mouse.”
“Not if he’s planning on lying to people about me.” Hickory looked at the cottage and scrunched up his face. “In there was always the world to me, and this was just outside. That’s going to take some getting used to.”
“Well then Hickory, my new friend, I say, welcome to the outside world!”
Hickory Dock Meets the Twins Tock
Hickory and Chickory set off through the grass forest, traveling first this way, then that. They walked for a long while and Hickory was amazed that Chickory could tell where she was going. At least I hope she knows where she’s going. “Uh… Chickory, where are we headed?”
Chickory pushed through a particularly tightly woven bit of grass. “Well, I’m trying to get us to the pricklebushes. From there we can see the manor… and I’ll have my bearings.”
Hickory said, “Oh.” Then he added matter-of-factly, “I don’t know what that all means.”
She smiled at him. “You are an odd mouse. Umm… from the pricklebushes I’ll have a better idea which direction it is to get home.”
Hickory was surprised. “You don’t know where you live?”
She chuckled. “No. Of course I do. I just don’t know how to get there from here.” Her voice got a little weird again. “Um, you see… strictly speaking, me and my brothers shouldn’t have been anywhere near the cottage today—or any day. It’s kind of forbidden. Today is the first time I’ve ever come this way. My brothers wanted to prove the legend of the clock troll, and I wanted to prove it wasn’t true. I didn’t know they were playing a trick on me. But I wasn’t scared.”
“I know,” Hickory said cheerily. “I was scared when I heard that noise, but you weren’t. I saw your face. It was nothing like when I mentioned the cat. You were scared then.”
Chickory couldn’t deny it. “Cats eat mice. Of course I was scared.”
They continued walking and Hickory’s satchel caught on a twig. He pulled hard to release it, the twig bent and the satchel came free, but Hickory tumbled into Chickory.
“Sorry. This thing got stuck.”
“What is that thing anyway?”
“I don’t know. Aunt Plumella gave it to me before she sent me outside.”
“Well it looks like it opens. Have you looked inside?”
Hickory was a little embarrassed. “Everything out here has been so interesting I forgot I was wearing it.”
“Well, what do you say we open it?”
Hickory did just that. Pulling on the tiny latch allowed the top to flop free. He pulled it back to reveal a shining metal object. “What could it be?”
Chickory pawed at it a little. “It could be a clock part, but I’ve never seen anything like it. Maybe my dad has.”
Click-thump… click-thump… click-thump…
Hickory’s whiskers twitched in fear. He quickly closed and latched the satchel then he remembered the noise was nothing to be afraid of. It took a few moments longer for his whiskers to agree. Stop twitching, whiskers, it’s nothing scary. Chickory is going to see. He paused at that thought and furrowed his brow. Why do I care if she sees?
“Beware!” came one voice followed by another. “You march to your dooooom!”
Chickory crossed her arms and waited. The voices issued several other warnings before she whispered, “Stay here.” She darted ahead.
A split second later one of the voices called out, “Hey! Ouch, knock it off!” Followed by the other voice, “All right! All right!” A moment more and Chickory Tock emerged from the thick grasses dragging two identical, amber-colored mice by their tails, which she had tied together. One carried the “whisker” of a clock and the other carried a heavy piece of tin: the sources of the clicking and thumping.
Her voice took on a very formal tone as she announced, “Dear—yet often annoying—Brothers, it is my pleasure to introduce to you the real resident of the old cottage, and he’s not a clock troll. Meet the one and only Hickory Dickory Dock the Eleventh.”
A moment passed and the brothers were silent. They looked at Hickory with what seemed like awe, but the moment passed and the two of them bellowed with laughter. “Oh really?” the first said and guffawed.
“Your majesty!” the second said and gave a mocking bow as he giggled.
Chickory yanked on their tails. “Hey! This is Hickory Dock!”
One winked at the other. “Uh huh. ‘Course it is.”
Hickory watched the whole interaction quizzically. “These are your brothers?”
Chickory nodded, then elbowed them both.
Hickory said, “I don’t know what that your majesty thing was about, but it’s nice to meet you both. I am Hickory Dock.”
One of them said, “Oh, okay. And I’m prince Veluushan of the hill mice.”
Hickory reached out a paw. “Pleased to meet—”
Before Hickory could shake his paw, Chickory interrupted, and her elbow went to work again.
“Actually, this is my brother Snickery.”
“Oww.” Snickery rubbed his side. “Uh… hi.”
“The other one is Flickery, his twin.”
Flickery smiled. “Hi! Technically we’re triplets. But as you can see she’s nothing like us. Now, who are you really? And why are you in the forbidden field? And how did you meet my sister? And are you in looove with her?” Another elbow. “Oww!”
Hickory was puzzled. He looked at Chickory. “Why don’t people believe me when I say my name?”
Flickery and Snickery answered together, then finished each other’s sentences. “It’s just that you have to be joking.”
“Everyone knows Hickory Dock—”
“Died when he was a baby.”
Hickory sighed. “Yeah… I keep hearing that.”
The twins started again. “If you go around telling people you’re Hickory Dock—”
“They’ll probably get mad at you. The Docks are pretty important people.”
“I mean, Trickery Dock might even have you arrested for—”
Chickory said, “Trickery Trickery Dock is why I know this mouse is the real deal. I heard him planning on lying to people.”
Flickery said, “You know he doesn’t like it when people use his full name.”
Chickory smirked. “Yeah, but I don’t care right now. Trickery Trickery Dock is the epitome of a Double Name if I ever heard of one.”
“A double name?” Hickory asked.
Chickory sighed again and looked at the twins. “Trust me on this, and I’ll believe there might be a clock troll. But you can’t let anyone know his name. Trickery is keeping a big secret. I think he’s afraid of this mouse.”
The twins looked at each other with a smirk that said [_she’s beginning to believe _]and answered together. “It’s a deal.”
She looked at Hickory. “I’ll let my dad explain about Double Names, but for now we have to get home. It’s getting late.”
“Okay.” She thinks Trickery is afraid of me. But he’s bigger and older. Aunt Plumella was right. A lot of things seem confusing right now.
The sun was dipping toward the horizon and dusk was rapidly setting in when they reached the pricklebushes. “Um, Sis,” Flickery said. “We still have a long way to go, and—”
Snickery finished. “It’s almost owl time.”
Hickory had never heard of owl time. It sounds like that’s a bad thing.
Chickory frowned. “You’re right, but Dad’ll be so upset if we don’t make it home before sleeptime.”
A loud [_hoo hoo _]sounded above them, and the three Tock children leapt under a pricklebush. Hickory looked up to see what had made the sound. A dark blur swooped from above and Hickory was intrigued. He’d never seen a bird before—specifically, he’d never seen an owl—so he didn’t know that owls hunt and eat mice or how at that very minute he was the main course on the owl’s breakfast menu. As he stared up at the plummeting bird, he suddenly comprehended the words the twins and Chickory were shouting at him.
“Get under the bush!”
“What are you doing? Do you want to be eaten?”
Hickory snapped out of his curiosity and immediately ran for the nearest pricklebush. It was too late. The owl was too close. Hickory would have been a goner if the twins hadn’t leapt into action. Snickery took his piece of tin and set it on a pricklebush branch. Flickery grabbed the branch and pulled it back tight.
“Higher! Aim higher!” Snickery shouted.
Flickery shouted back, “I know!”
A second more and they released the branch. The tin zipped through the air. An archer with years of practice couldn’t have made a better shot. As the owl opened its talons to grab Hickory, the tin piece struck it squarely in the eye. Distracted by pain, it closed its grip on empty air, screeched in anger, and flew away. Hickory reached the bush and safety.
With the danger over, Hickory slumped to the ground, breathing heavily, trying to calm down. Flickery bounded over. “Are you crazy? You could have been killed!”
“I didn’t know.”
Chickory chimed in. “He’s never been outside—not in as long as he can remember. Trickery kept him in the old cottage all these years. He is Hickory Dock.”
The twins were starting to believe.
Hickory sat up. “It’s true.” He shuddered, thinking of how close a call he just had. “Thank you, both. You saved my life.”
At that moment a voice called out from the dark. “Are y’all right over there? I heard an owl, and I heard yellin’. Is everyone okay?”
Chickory whispered. “It’s the bushbarrier watchmouse.” Then she called back. “We’re safe!”
The watchmouse came half-waddling into view around the base of a bush. His mottled brown and white fur were a perfect match to his slightly rounded body and his brogue-ish accent. “You kids shouldn’t be out this late. It’s dangerous, and y’really shouldn’t be playin’ so near the forbidden fields.”
Chickory tried not to look as guilty as she felt. “We know, Sir. We just lost track of time.”
“Well, come on, y’rascals. You four can’t stay out here. It’s not safe. You’ll be stayin’ with me and the missus tonight. I’m Gregory Tegory Sock, the watchmouse.” He bit his cheek and sighed. “Martha hates bein’ unprepared for company.”
Hickory said, “I’m sorry for that, Gregory, but it is a pleasure to meet you.”
Gregory eyed him. “Well those are some manners. The pleasure’s mine, Young Mouse. And what be yer name?”
Chickory interrupted. “Dickory Tickory Tock. He’s our cousin.”
Gregory eyed her. “Uh huh… and yer Chickory Tock, and those be yer brothers the Twins Tock. If I were in more of an investigatin’ mood, I’d be willin’ to bet at least those two have been playin’ more than just near the forbidden fields.” He winked at Hickory. “But it’s late, so I’ll settle for havin’ a meal and a sleep and callin’ it good. Let’s go meet the Missus. She was once a Tree Mouse, y’know.”
They followed Gregory to his burrow at the base of a nearby pricklebush. It was cozy inside—as burrows go—and there were several extra nests for visitors. Though Martha may have hated being unprepared, it was rare to actually find her so. She set out a nice meal of seeds and nuts that the young mice appreciated, and they all conversed while eating. At one point Martha turned to Hickory, “So, Young Mouse, what exactly is that funny thing you keep draped over your shoulder?”
Chickory Spoke before Hickory could. “Nothing important. Well, it’s been a long day and we’re really tired. Thanks for the meal. We should really be getting—”
Gregory spoke with a kindly authority. “Young Miss Tock, it be rude to interrupt when yer elder asks a question. Go on, Dickory, answer.”
Hickory looked at Chickory as if to say [_Don’t worry so much, _]then looked at Martha. “I don’t actually know, Ma’am. It was a gift from my aunt. But I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”
Martha glanced at Gregory then back to Hickory before she replied. “I’m sure you will, Young Mouse. Any more food?”
Hickory yawned. “No thank you, Ma’am. Actually, I think Chickory was right. It has been a long day, and a sleep would be nice.”
Gregory winked at Martha, yawned and smiled. “I agree, Lad. Sleeptime it be.”
With that Martha led them to their respective nests where they all nestled down for the night. Hickory closed his eyes and relaxed. The nest was comfy, the mice were kind, and the smell of the place made him feel all warm inside. As he began drifting toward sleep, Gregory said, “Goodnight, Lad. May all of yer dreams be dreams.”
To which Hickory yawned and blearily replied, “May each one be filled with wonderful things.”
“Hmm.” Gregory mused. “I thought that might be the case.”
Hickory fell fast asleep.
Hickory Dock, or Hallio Sock?
Hickory woke up refreshed, and when he opened his eyes, Gregory was hard at work grinding something with a pebble. He looked around. The other mice were still asleep, so he got up quietly and approached. “Good morning, Gregory.”
Gregory smiled. “Good mornin’ to you too, Hickory. This’ll be ready in a few more minutes.”
Hickory didn’t notice he’d been called by his proper name. “What is it?”
“Well, Young Mouse, it be a disguise for ya, if yer plannin’ on goin’ to the manor, which I’m assumin’ y’are.”
Hickory thought how strange that was. “Why would I need a disguise?”
“Well now, I should think that’d be obvious. So no one will guess who y’are, Master Dock.”
He said Dock, not Tock. A frightened look crossed Hickory’s face.
“It’s all right, Lad. Yer secret’s safe with me. I don’t know how it be possible that yer alive—and standin’ in my humble burrow—but yer the spittin’ image of yer father if ever a son was, and he was my chum. So I’ll be doin’ my best to see yer kept safe, and that be what the disguise is for.”
“You knew my father?”
“He and I were pals. He and Tickory Tock and I used to spend every waking minute together. Yer Uncle Trickery was always jealous of our friendship. That be why he sent me to serve out here when yer father… well, when Trickery was the last remaining Dock.”
Hickory had always wondered about his father. Trickery had always said both Hickory’s parents had died in a flood and that’s all he needed to know.
Maybe now I’ll get to learn about them.
Gregory finished his grinding. “Crushed thimbleberry: great for changin’ fur color. So come on over here and let’s get to makin’ you a red-furred mouse.”
Hickory obliged and Gregory began rubbing the color into his fur. Hickory asked, “So I look so much like my father that you knew it was me just by seeing me?”
“Well, yer looks were strikin’, and yer manner, but it was the sleeptime blessin’ I recited last night about dreams. Your grandmother used to say it to wish us good dreams when we’d have sleepovers as wee little mice. Yer father must have said it to you. Y’finished it perfectly.”
“I didn’t even notice.”
Gregory smiled. “I know, Lad. Now, turn around for me. Let’s make sure I got y’red all over.” He nodded approvingly. “Yer one of the best lookin’ little red mice I’ve seen in a long time. Now we just have to let it dry. If you get wet, you’ll be a grey mouse again in no time.”
Hickory and Gregory talked a while in the quiet of the morning. There were many things Hickory wanted to know, including what had really happened to his family, but Gregory told him it would be best to learn those things from Tickery Tock. “Lad, Tickery be a great deal wiser than I. We’ll see that y’get to him soon so everythin’ll be clear. We just have to keep you from yer uncle. He’ll surely be set to keep anyone from discoverin’ yer alive.”
Just about that time Chickory woke up and saw Hickory wasn’t in his nest. She jumped up and ran to Gregory, causing such a stir that the others woke as well. “Gregory, where’s Hic—our cousin Dickory?” Before Hickory could say anything, Chickory looked him over and said, “And who’s this mouse?”
Gregory winked at Hickory and said nonchalantly, “Well, yer cousin left early this mornin’, and this be Hallio Rallio Sock… my nephew.”
Chickory was shocked and sad that Hickory would leave without saying anything.
At the look on her face, Hickory held out his hand to her. “I’m pleased to meet you, Miss Tock.”
Chickory eyed him and crossed her arms. “I know that voice.”
Gregory smirked at her and leaned down. “That y’do, Lass. But y’have to admit my story be a bit more convincin’ than yers was.”
The twins bounded over, followed by Martha. The two twins said together, “Who’s this?”
Hickory chuckled, and Martha replied, “Boys, I’ll wager it’s your supposed cousin.”
Hickory smiled. “Good morning, Guys. What do you think of my new look?”
Chickory smiled and clapped her paws. “It’s brilliant! Trickery will never recognize you!” She looked at Gregory. “How’d you know? And why are you helping us when you work for Trickery?”
“I have my ways.” He frowned. “And I only serve Trickery Dock because he be [_The _]Dock, but young Hickory here be the rightful Dock, so don’t you fret, Lassie. I be doing my right job by helping the lad. We Socks have always been in service to the Docks.”
Martha made a meal and Gregory washed the remaining thimbleberry juice from his paws. After they all ate, the young mice were sent on their way with a strict warning from Gregory not to reveal Hickory’s identity to anyone but their father. He told Hickory it would be best to leave his satchel there, so as not to draw attention. “I’ll keep it safe for ya, Lad.” He turned to the others. “Now remember, this red mouse here be not Hickory Dock, nor does he be yer cousin Dickory. He be my nephew: Hallio Rallio Sock—my brother Eggory’s eldest boy from the Riverthorne burrows—and he be travelin’ with you to meet the clockmouse, which has been a dream of his for long years. Understood?”
They each said, “Yes” and the twins saluted him like a military captain.
Hickory was excited at the intrigue, and that he would finally learn what a clock was. This is turning into quit the adventure.
The young mice set off across the meadow that stretched between the pricklebush barrier and the manor. The grass was short, soft, and springy, and here and there patches of flowers grew like forests. They jumped and bounced in the grasses, played hide and seek in the flowers, and just enjoyed the outside world on their way to the manor. Hickory hadn’t ever had anyone to play with and he didn’t know what he’d been missing. They tumbled. They wrestled. They play-fought with twigs, and basically had the time of their lives until they reached the manor yard.
The manor was hemmed in behind a long line of shrubs that had grown wild. The hedge was short to a human, but huge to a mouse. At the base of one shrub they were greeted by another watchmouse: Snydeley Dydeley Pock (and by the name you may guess he was not kind).
He shouted, “You there! The lot of you! Where’ve you been? Tickory Tock put out word you didn’t come home last night.”
Flickery said, “We were lost, Sir, and—”
Snydeley glared at him. “I know you, Twin Tock—whichever one you are—and I don’t believe a word of it! You, Miss Tock, tell me where you’ve been!”
Chickory shot an icy stare at her brother for lying then answered. “Sir, we were playing near the bushbarrier yesterday and lost track of time. We stayed the night with Gregory Sock the watchmouse. He and his wife were kind enough to take us in, but now we’d like to see our father. He’s probably worried sick.” She took a step.
“Not so fast, Miss Tock. Who’s this little red runt?”
Hickory was indignant. “I’m not little. And I’m not a runt. I’m a centimeter taller than the twins and Chickory.”
The watchmouse waved a sharpened twig at him. “Keep your yap from flapping and don’t get uppity with me, Mouse.” He paused, waiting for Hickory to answer. “Well?”
Snickery pointed out, “You told him not to speak—”
The watchmouse pointed the twig at Snickery, and Chickory said, “If I may, Sir. This is Hallio Rallio Sock—Gregory the watchmouse’s nephew from the Riverthorne Burrows. He’s always wanted to meet the clockmouse, our dad.”
The watchmouse lowered the twig. “Well then, tell Gregory to keep his relatives in check.” He waved the twig at Hickory once more for good measure before sending them on their way.
The manor was huge. Hickory had thought the cottage was big enough to be a world. If that was the case, the manor was large enough to be ten worlds, and there were mice enough to fill it.
They passed through a small opening in the outer wall into a space beneath the floor boards, but had to wait while twenty-three mice made their way out of a passage before they could continue. Hickory had never thought of that many mice, let alone seen them. Once they were able, they made their way up through a wall to the second floor and then out into a hallway. There, several mouse families—with children too young to be outside safely—were at play.
Chickory pointed to a large open room at the end of the hall. “We live in there.”
The twins grinned at each other, a mischievous gleam in their eyes. “Yes—”
They bounded ahead, scurrying past families at play and telling the littlest mice, “Chickory and her friend want to play with you.” Of course, that made it hard for Hickory and Chickory to keep up, just as the twins intended.
Chickory grabbed Hickory’s paw. “Hurry! They’re trying to tell my dad first!”
Hickory ran beside Chickory as they dodged tiny scurrying mice and she politely informed them, “I’m sorry. Can’t play right now. Gotta catch my brothers before they get into trouble.”
With an, “Awwww…” or a dejected, “Okay…” the tiny mice conceded. Even the youngest mice understood her brothers’ reputation for mischief.
Hickory admired her way with the little mice. He smiled. I think I might just like this mouse.
When they reached the room at the end of the hall they stopped and Chickory looked for any sign of her brothers. The room was large even by human standards, and the walls were lined with bookshelves, but Hickory didn’t notice. He was still thinking about Chickory. “You know,” he said, “you’re good with mice… when you wanna be”
Chickory flashed an awkward smile. “Thanks. I try.” She spotted her brothers taking the long way around to avoid their Uncle Gafferee. “Oh! We can still beat them! Come on!” She grabbed his paw again and pulled him forward.
They bounded across the room, under chairs, past table legs, waved at Uncle Gafferee (who Chickory told Hickory had a bone to pick with the twins), and leapt onto a book shelf where they scrabbled their way up to the fifth shelf and squeezed between two very old books, then through a mouse hole. Once on the other side they saw the twins pop through another hole and begin making their way up the inside of the wall toward an opening with light streaming from it. Chickory said, “Don’t let them get there first!” They rushed forward, and Hickory enjoyed the competition. All four of them reached the opening at the same time, but the hole was only big enough for two. So they squeezed and shoved and pushed and elbowed until they all popped through at once and tumbled to the floor in Tickery Tock’s Clockworkshop.
Before looking or thinking, the twins jumped up and said together, “Dad! Dad! You’ll never guess who we found!”
It was only then they noticed their father was not alone. Trickery Trickery Dock arched an eyebrow and bent over them. “Who, pray tell, did you find?”
Flickery and Snickery just stared with their mouths agape. Chickory was frozen too. Hickory thought about how his disguise had failed so quickly when he’d opened his mouth to Chickory in Gregory’s burrow, but somehow someone had to answer. So he put on his best impression of Gregory Sock and spoke. “Hallio Sock—Hallio Rallio Sock. I be Gregory Sock’s nephew from the Riverthorne Burrows. I come to meet the clockmouse. And who might you be, Sir?”
Trickery glared at Hickory. His aggravation grew almost to anger, twisting his features. Hickory’s heart filled with dread, but he kept a strong face. Please don’t recognize me, Unk.
After glaring at the little red mouse long enough to feel all-powerful, Trickery said, “Who might I be? Who indeed! I am Trickery Dock. I am The Dock, and even the mice of Riverthorne should pay respect.”
Hickory continued the act. “Well then, I believe I be without manners. It be a pleasure to meet ya, Master Dock.”
He bowed to Trickery, who straitened and said, “Very well, Young Sock. You are forgiven.” He turned to Tickory. “I expect you’ll be in council on time. No excuses.” Tickory bowed his head in acceptance, and Trickery marched out, brushing the children aside.
Once they were sure they were alone, Chickory ran to Hickory and slugged him in the shoulder. “That was beautiful! You sounded just like Gregory!”
The twins tackled him and agreed.
Flickery said, “That was amazing!”
Snickery said, “I was so scared, but you were sooo calm.”
About that time their father chimed in. “What’s this all about? And where were you last night?”
Chickory answered in a very formal tone, “Father, we are very sorry, and we will explain, but first you may want to brace yourself.”
Tickory smirked at his daughter’s oh-so-serious manner.
“Brace yourself because… this red mouse… well, he’s… I mean, he is—”
She dropped the formality and said plainly, “He’s Hickory Dickory Dock, Dad.”
Hickory smiled. “Hi!”
After nearly fifteen minutes—and numerous defining questions—Tickory Tock was starting to believe his ears and eyes. “So, Gregory Sock dyed your fur red to disguise you from your uncle?”
“He did, Sir.”
Tickory shook his head and chuckled. “Well, it obviously worked.”
Chickory said, “Thanks to his wonderful performance.”
Tickory took in the scene, amazed. “Well, your smile is definitely your father’s.” As the shock began to wear off, Tickory stood, plucked Hickory from the ground and embraced him. “Hickory’s son, alive!” He sighed contentedly, set Hickory down, and stared at him. “Oh, Child, this is a glorious day. Your father and I were the best of friends.” He sat and his face turned grim. “If only I’d known. If only. But we mustn’t let your uncle discover you. He’s kept this secret a long time and benefits much from it. We’ll need proof before we can reveal your identity.”
Chickory’s voice matched her father’s grim tone. “Dad, there’s more. He’s not the only secret Trickery’s been keeping.”
“What do you mean?”
Hickory answered. “My Aunt Plumella, Sir… she’s alive too. She’s in the attic of the worl— I mean, of the cottage.”
Tickory’s eyes filled with disbelief. “Your Aunt Plumella?”
“Yes, Sir. I didn’t understand it until yesterday, but she’s been protecting me all these years.”
Chickory chimed in again. “And Dad, he doesn’t know what a clock is.”
Tickory Tock’s face took on a look of utter bewilderment as though he were deciding which complex road they should travel first. He sighed. “Well… clocks first.” He shook himself to focus. “It’s unfitting for a Dock not to know.”
“Unk—I mean Trickery—always said I was too young to know.”
Tickory put his paw on Hickory’s shoulder and gave him a fatherly look. “That was a lie, Hickory. As a Dock, you should have been schooled in clockworks from before you could speak. And as an Eighth Great, well… I’ll explain more about that later. First, follow me.”
Tickory led the children across the mouse-sized workshop—in truth it was an old Dollhouse on a shelf in a closet—Hickory was amazed by all the metal odds and ends Tickory pointed out as they went. “Those are screws. Those are springs. Those are the hands of a broken clock I’m fixing.”
Hickory smiled. “I’ve seen those before in Aunt Plumella’s attic. They were spinning around kind of funny… well, one was. So they’re called hands.” He mused. “I called them whiskers.”
Tickory and his daughter exchanged a knowing look. The twins were busy playing with a spring, and Hickory wondered at the wordless communication, but Tickory just went on with his guided tour as he stepped out the front door of the doll house. “Now… out here is where the real treasures are.”
Tickory stepped aside and Hickory’s mouth dropped open in amazement. The closet door was open, and the room it revealed had walls covered from top to bottom in shelves, each shelf proudly displaying a lot of clocks.
How many are there? “Wow!” Hickory said, and without a single reservation, he jumped from the doll house, scurried down the door jam, sprinted across the room and ran up the shelves, stopping only to inspect each clock he passed. “They’re so… they’re so… neat!”
Chickory called across the room, “I know, right?” she looked at her dad. “He’s definitely an Eighth Great.” Scurrying after Hickory she called out, “These… are clocks!”
The two of them browsed their way across the shelves as Chickory explained what the “whiskers” were for and told him the name of each clock. Many were names she invented. “That one’s a Harpswish. I call it that because of the way the wood swishes on that side. It reminds me of a harp. If you don’t know what a harp is, I can show you. There’s one in the great hall. It’s neat too, but not like a clock.”
They stopped in front of an old walnut desk clock with a well-polished brass ring around the face. Tickory Tock, who was still standing at the door to the doll house, looked out at them and smiled at their instant friendship. Had Hickory or Chickory been listening, they might have heard him say, “Ah, young Mice. Some things in life are just like clockworks.”
When Hickory and Chickory were done on the shelves, they returned to Tickory’s workshop where Tickory was hard at work repairing a clock the twins had accidentally broken.
As they entered, Tickory looked over and smiled. “Good. You’ve returned.”
“Yes, Sir,” Hickory said. “That was amazing. Clocks are amazing.”
“I agree. Though I doubt I feel it as strongly as you do since you’re an Eighth Great and all.”
Hickory cocked his head. “That’s the second time you’ve called me that. What is that?”
“Well, that has a longish answer, for which we should have some tea.” Manor mice had long ago learned the art of brewing tea, one of few human behaviors they’re known to emulate.
“You’ll enjoy it. Come along.”
Hickory Dock Discovered
Hickory and the others followed Tickory up to the third floor of the dollhouse and out a hole in the back wall that led into a cozy nook nestled away in the actual wall of the manor. There Mrs. Tock was brewing tea in a large tablespoon held safely over a lit candle resting in a little stone dish. Mice don’t strain the leaves from their tea. They like to nibble them when they are done drinking.
As the children entered, Mrs. Tock set the tablespoon down and rushed over to greet them. “Oh my Darlings… where have you been? I was so worried.”
Tickory said, “They’ve had an adventure, most of which they are sorry for. For one bit I would never expect them to be.” He took on a very proper tone and said, “My darling wife, allow me to introduce you to—”
Hickory was smiling broadly awaiting his introduction, and Mrs. Tock gasped. “Hickory Dickory Dock!”
Tickory shrugged and smiled. “You’re brilliant, Wife, as always.”
She scurried over to Hickory and cradled his face in her paws. “Oh, you have your mother’s eyes… and your father’s smile. Young mouse, how came you to be here? And who put thimbleberry juice in your fur?”
Tickory chuckled and shook his head, then went on to properly introduce Hickory to the ever-observant Mrs. Jolee Zolee Tock. The children answered many of her questions and she agreed Trickery must not find him out.
With a history telling on the evening’s menu, she returned to brewing tea. Once they were all served and sitting, Tickory said, “The history of your family and ours has been entwined for a long time. Although I am called Tickory, my full name is Chickory Tickory Tock. I am a tenth generation Chickory Tickory, which makes my daughter an eleventh generation; she was firstborn of the triplets and as such received my name. Eleventh generations bearing the name of all ten generations before are called Eighth Greats. Your father was a tenth generation Hickory Dickory.”
“Which makes me an Eighth Great?”
“But what does it mean?”
“Well, something very special, but your father didn’t know that until just a few years before you were born. You see, Hickory, The Docks have been the valley mouse society’s leaders for as long as anyone can remember and—”
Flickery chimed in, “That’s why I called you your majesty when we were joking around yesterday.”
Tickory raised an eyebrow at Flickery, and Hickory asked, “So my father was sort of our… king?”
Tickory smiled. “Yes. Though, the mice of this valley have long since referred to the king simply as The Dock. If someone is [_The Dock, _]he is the one whom all mice serve, but a good Dock will serve all mice. Your father was that kind of Dock, as was your grandfather—mostly—but he had an odd temperament for a Dock. Your grandfather wouldn’t allow anyone to tell your father or your uncle about clocks, or about Eighth Greats. He would say, ‘I don’t believe in fairy stories, and neither shall my boys’ and ‘such nonsense is pure balderdash.’ He even went so far as to make your uncle a Double Name. He should have known better.”
That’s the second time somebody has referred to Unk that way. “Tickory, Sir, what’s a Double Name?”
Tickory frowned. “Well, just as mice have found that Eighth Greats are always drawn to clocks, they’ve also found that mice given two of the same name will often choose a more selfish course in life. They do so more often than any other mice. Your grandfather said that was ‘poppycock’ and to prove it gave your uncle the worst of Double Names. As a Dock—as The Dock—he should have known better, that our names become part of us. They help define us. You have seen your uncle’s treachery, and it serves as proof of your grandfather’s poor choosing.”
Hickory’s heart turned to his Uncle Trickory. [_That’s kind of sad for Unk. If Tickory’s right, Granddad set him up to be bad. _]He pondered that for a moment. “Poor Unk.”
Tickory and Jolee smiled at Hickory’s compassion.
Hickory twitched his whiskers at a thought, then asked, “So… why are Eighth Greats so special? And why do we like clocks so much?”
Tickory smiled. “There is a worthy question. Some think it too amazing to be true. Some call it magic, but it’s simply the way it is with mice. Eighth Greats… can open doors.”
Hickory’s brow furrowed. “Open doors?”
Tickory was amused by Hickory’s response. “Not just any doors, mind you. Doors no one else can open. In fact, doors no one else can even see until they’ve been opened.”
Hickory was feeling confused again.
“Young Master Dock, the reason Eighth Greats are so special, and why they’re so enthralled with clocks, is this: the doors only they can see and open are in clocks.”
“Doors in clocks? But you take apart and build clocks, couldn’t you open a door in a clock?
Chickory smiled at him and turned to her dad. “It’s a good question, huh, Dad?”
“Indeed.” He flattened the fur on his ears and thought for a moment. “Let me say it differently—Eighth Greats can see and open doors through clocks to other clocks in other places.”
Flickery and Snickery said together, “Like the realm of the clock troll!” and Snickery added a comically eerie, “WoooOOOoooo.”
Tickory shook his head. “Boys, some stories are just that—stories.”
Chickory added, “Yeah. There’s no such thing as a clock troll.”
The twins shrugged and Tickory continued. “I would have said places like the mouse realms; lands much like ours but separated by a distance so great they can only be reached by clock, and only by one who can open the door. And that brings me to the tale of your great great great great great great great great grandfather Hickory Dickory Dock and the Eighth Great Rambio Tambio Hock.”
The twins hooted and said together, “That’s a great story!”
Hickory wanted to hear the story, but he was confused. “Tickory, Sir, I just explored all those clocks on the shelves and I didn’t see a single door.”
“Quite right. It wasn’t the top of the hour.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Near as the clockmice before me have been able to discern, not all clocks are door-clocks and most door-clock doors will only appear when the clock strikes an hour and only if you’re standing near the face.”
“Oh, I see.” Hickory’s brow furrowed in contemplation.
Snickery said, “If he tells the story—”
Flickery finished. “It’ll make more sense.”
Hickory said, “Well then, I’m all ears.”
Tickory bowed and began. “In the summer of Alder Falder Dock’s final year as The Dock, his son Hickory Dickory befriended the Eighth Great Rambio Tambio Hock. It was he who became the first clockmouse. I follow in his footsteps.
“Now, when the moonchimes were in bloom, Rambio asked The Dock for permission to bring Hickory and two others through the clock to explore one of the mouse realms. Eighth Great legends told of a realm where mice could live unhindered by humans, and at that time humans still lived in the manor. But, opening clock doors had been forbidden for many years due to Hargrey Fargrey Ock’s mythic recounting of his encounter with an unknown creature in the hall between clocks.”
Flickery and Snickery eyed each other knowingly, but Tickory paid no heed. “Alder Dock was himself an adventurous mouse, and so he agreed and changed the law. The following day four mice met at the grandfather clock in the old cottage: Rambio Tambio Hock the Eleventh, miss Jaskee Taskee Chock the first, Chickory Tickory Tock the first, and Hickory Dickory Dock the first.”
Chickory looked at Hickory and smiled. “Our ancestors.”
Hickory smiled back. I never knew being with other mice would feel so… nice.
Tickory continued. “Hickory had always believed the stories, but had never seen the door in any clock. So when the clock struck one and Rambio climbed to the face of the clock, twisted the knob, and it opened, Hickory was shocked when blue light flooded the room. Ever the adventurer at heart, he ran up the clock and stood at Rambio’s side. Chickory and Jaskee joined them. Rambio passed into the light, then Hickory followed and then the others. In an instant they were whooshing through the swirling light, unsure of where they would arrive. The tumbling lightshow stopped and they found themselves standing in a hall before a clock face like a mirror reflection of the grandfather clock. Lining the hall were countless other clocks, each like reflections as well, but one was open and light was streaming in.”
A bell on the wall jingled, interrupting the tale and startling Hickory and the others. Tickory chuckled. “Well who could that be?” Before he could respond any further, watchmouse Snydeley Dydeley Pock burst in. “It’s nearly twelve o’clock. You’ll be wanted in council shortly. The Dock ordered that I be sure you show up today. No excuses.”
Tickory sighed in frustration. “It is customary to ring the bell and wait for the curtain to be drawn before entering a mouse’s private chambers. Now, regardless of who gave you your orders, I demand that you leave. I am enjoying a thimbleful of tea with my family and a friend.”
“But nothing. Clockmouse trumps watchmouse last time I checked the order of things. You may inform The Dock I will be there at twelve o’clock sharp. Now go.”
Snydley Pock sneered and shot unkind looks at everyone in the room. When his eyes fell on Hickory, he paused. Hickory had been drinking tea and all around his mouth, the thimbleberry juice had been washed away, revealing his grey fur. Snydley glared. Tickory followed his gaze, and his heart missed a beat. He glanced from Jolee to Hickory and back.
Tickory made a wide sweeping gesture with his arm as he turned and stepped between Hickory and the watchmouse. “On second thought, I’ll join you now.” He placed his arm around the watchmouse’s shoulder and ushered him outside.
Hickory didn’t understand, but the moment it was safe, Jolee said, “Your grey fur is showing, and Watchmouse Pock saw. He is an unkind soul who lives to pass secrets to your uncle. I’m sure he doesn’t know who you are, but if he tells Trickery—”
Hickory finished the thought, “Then it’s only a matter of time ‘til I’m caught.”
Chickory jumped up and said, “Then we just have to tell the council who Hickory is. Then he’d be The Dock and Trickery would be out.”
The twins both said, “Yeah!”
Jolee did not. “It’s a fine idea, but it won’t work. Trickery will deny it, and your father’s word that Hickory is Hickory Dock wouldn’t be enough. We need proof.”
Hickory sighed, and Chickory got a determined gleam in her eye. “What if we brought Plumella back?”
Jolee startled at the mention of the name. “Plumella? But how?”
Hickory said, “My aunt is still in the old cottage. She’s been protecting me from Unk… uh, I mean Uncle Trickery, but I didn’t understand that until yesterday.”
Jolee stared blankly at Hickory and sat down. A sad mix of confusion and recognition crossed her face. “Hickory dear, you don’t have an aunt. Trickery has never married.”
Hickory crossed his arms. “What do you mean?”
A tear ran down Jolee’s cheek as she realized who had kept him safe all these years. “Come here, young mouse, please.”
Hickory uncrossed his arms and walked to her.
Jolee placed her paw gently on his cheek. “Hickory, Plumella Dock is your mother’s name.”
A look of bewilderment crossed his face. “Plumella is my… mom?” He started shaking all over. “But my mother died in a flood.” His whiskers twitched and his lip started to quiver. [_I have a mom. But all the time she spent in the attic, away from me…. _]
“We all thought she had died, but if what you say is true, your mother is alive and has been protecting you.”
My mom? Unk must have made her stay locked away. He remembered what she said when he left the attic. ‘Whatever happens, know that I love you and I did my best to keep you safe.’ Hickory started to cry.
Jolee embraced him, and Chickory said, “I’m sorry, Hick. I really wasn’t sure or I would have said something when you called her your aunt.”
The twins came and each put a paw on him, but neither could think of anything to say. After a few minutes, Hickory looked up with his eyes full of sadness. “My mom is alive. And I never knew she was my mom.” [_My mom… is alive. _]Hickory quickly wiped the tears from his face and stood up straighter. “My mom is alive!”
Chickory smiled and said, “Yeah, she is.”
A look of resolve came over Hickory. “And my Unk is a bad mouse.”
Snickery said, “Yeah.”
And Flickery added, “He is.”
Strength filled Hickory from head to toe. “If bringing my mom back will prove to the mouse council that my Uncle Trickery shouldn’t be The Dock, then that’s what I’m gonna do.” He looked at the others. “But I can’t do it alone.”
The Tock children all smiled. “You can count us in.”
Hickory Dock, and the Way Is Blocked
Hickory and the Tocks sat to make a plan. Time was of the essence. Jolee said, “You’ll have to leave quickly. I would like to join you, but the wives of the council are expected to meet to prepare a meal when the council is nearly over. It would draw suspicion and put you in danger if I wasn’t there. You have a little time. Watchmouse Pock won’t be able to tell Trickery what he saw until the council is over. My husband will see to that.”
Flickery said, “It’s a long walk to the old cottage. It’ll be owl time before we can make it to the bushbarrier. We should hide out somewhere in the manor and leave for the cottage in the morning.”
Chickory disagreed. “We’re more likely to get caught that way. And Trickery’s here now. If we wait ‘til the morning, he may be there when we get there.”
A thought struck Hickory. “How does my uncle explain being gone every night?”
The Tock children looked at him blankly and Jolee asked, “What do you mean, Hickory?”
“Well, Unk was always there at the cottage in the morning when I woke up… unless he was away ‘exploring outside’. Flickery’s right. It is a long walk. So he must have made some excuse for being gone.”
The kids still seemed confused, but Jolee said, “Trickery has never been gone for any great length of time. Certainly not long enough to be in the old cottage nearly every morning….”
Chickory shook off her confusion as a series of facts came back to her. “Wait… Hickory, you said your uncle was there yesterday morning. Right?”
“And Snickery, you told me that you and Flickery followed Trickery all day the day before. Right?”
Snickery’s eyes brightened. “Yeah. We were playing a game of Silent Follow.”
Jolee said, “You mean you were sneaking around?”
Snickery said, “Well… yes. But Chickory’s got a good point. It’s a good thing we did. We know when Trickery went to bed. It was a long time after owl time.”
Chickory concluded dramatically. “So, if Trickery went to bed after owl time, and he was in the cottage early, then he had to have some way of getting from here to there without being seen. Somebody would have said something if The Dock was going for long strolls in the middle of the night.”
Hickory summed it up. “He must have a secret way.”
Flickery chimed in. “It must be really really secret ‘cause we’ve explored every inch of this manor.”
Snickery added, “Well… uh, every inch we’re allowed to explore.”
Jolee crossed her arms. “Uh huh.”
Hickory said, “When Uncle Trickery would go on his treks outside the world he used a hole in the floor. He never went out a window or door, or even through a hole in the wall.”
Recognition struck Jolee. “When Trickery became The Dock he didn’t take your father’s quarters. Instead he moved his room down beneath the first floor sitting room. We all assumed it was just too hard for him emotionally.”
Hickory pieced it together. “There must be a passage that leads from his room to the cottage.”
The twins said, “That makes perfect sense!”
Chickory said, “Then we have to find that passage.”
Hickory smiled with determination. “Agreed…. Unk, we’re gonna prove you’re a bad mouse.”
Jolee Tock took some tea and lightly wet Hickory’s paws. “Rub them all over your face. Just a little will spread the Thimbleberry juice. Too much will wash it off, as you learned.” To the children’s amazement, Hickory’s disguise was restored. Knowing the task before them was a dangerous one, Jolee hugged each of the children and prayed for them before sending them on their way. Soon the children Tock and Hickory Dock were making their way through the halls of the manor. Their intent was to break into The Dock’s chambers. It was a crime punishable by banishment.
Hickory looked at the children Tock as they rounded a corner into the first floor sitting room. I’m amazed they’re willing to help me do something so dangerous. “Thank you, guys… for helping me.”
Flickery stood up strong. “It’s our duty. You’re The Dock.”
Snickery added, “Yeah. And Trickery isn’t.”
Chickory casually placed her elbow on Hickory’s shoulder and smiled at him. “Besides all that, we want to. We like you.”
Hickory smiled. “I like you too. Uh… all you guys.”
The twins both smirked. “Uh huh… us guys?”
Hickory almost blushed. “Uh, yeah. Of course! Let’s go.”
They made their way to an old ottoman. From there they could easily see the entrance to Trickery’s personal chambers without being seen themselves. Two watchmice were standing guard beside a slightly-more-than-mouse-sized hole in the floor, positioned three inches to the left of the leg of an old carved, mahogany coffee table. As The Dock’s guardmice they were among the few mice who wore more than just their fur. Both were adorned with a cap made from half a walnut shell carved with a mouse paw shape at the front, a symbol of stature and rank.
Hickory frowned. “So that’s it huh?”
The others nodded.
“Well, the way is blocked. So how are we going to get past the guards?”
Chickory frowned too. In fact, all four of them frowned, then Flickery said, “Maybe Snickery and I could create a diversion. Our um… reputation—you know, for mischief—could be our excuse.”
Chickory shook her head. “No. Whoever they see won’t be able to come with us.”
Snickery looked at the guards then back to the others. “Yep, but Flickery’s right. Someone’s gotta draw their attention away.”
As much as they hated it, they all agreed. Snickery looked at Flickery, “Brother, I’ll be the distraction. You stay with Hickory and Sis. They may need you. Besides I’ve had more adventures than you anyway.”
Snickery grinned. “Have too and you know it. Now I’m older, and I say I’m gonna be the distraction.”
Flickery rolled his eyes. “You’re only thirty seconds older.” Snickery looked at him smugly. Flickery sighed. “Fine. You win. Just try not to get caught… too soon.”
Hickory put his paw on the elder twin’s shoulder. “Thank you, Snickery Tock.”
“You’re welcome. You’re The Dock.” With that Snickery turned, put on his most mischievous face, and bolted out from under the ottoman. “Tallyho!” He ran straight for The Dock’s hole and the guards.
Chickory said, “What is he doing?”
The others just stared.
One of the guards shouted. “Stop there! In the name of The Dock!”
Snickery ran several steps farther before he stopped. “Did you mean stop here, or back there?” He ran a few steps back. “You just said stop there, but you didn’t really specify where there was. Here? Or was it somewhere in between?”
Exasperated, the guard shouted. “Twin Tock! Whichever one you are—”
“I’m Flickery,” said Snickery.
Over at the ottoman Flickery’s jaw dropped. “Oh! That rat! That super-rat! He’s using my name!”
Back by the guards Snickery continued. “I’m just chasing my brother. He went down that hole.” He pointed to The Dock’s chambers.
The second guard sputtered, “What? He—How could he—Wait.”
“We’re playing Silent Follow.”
The other guard raised his voice. “Now just one minute! We’ve stood guard the livelong day. There is no way you’re brother could have gotten down that hole.”
“That’s what was funny, and that’s why it’s such a great game. He snuck up right behind you and was making faces at me from across the room, and neither of you noticed. Then he waved and just popped right down the hole.”
“But that’s The Dock’s chambers. He wouldn’t—”
Snickery grinned mischievously.
The guard’s face blanched. “He would!”
Snickery said, “You can go check. Actually you might want to.”
The first guard nodded to the second, who immediately went down the hole. “You had better not be playing with us, young mouse.”
“I am definitely not playing.”
A minute passed and the other guard emerged. “There’s no one down there.”
Both guards turned to Snickery and the first guard spoke. “Flickery Tock, I warned you—”
“Honest, Sir, my brother said he was going down that hole, and Snickery said he took your cap.”
The guard was offended. “I am a guardmouse. No one takes my cap!”
“Sir, I meant no offense, but that’s what Snickery planned.”
“Well, it never happened.”
Snickery put on his best apologetic face. “I’m sorry, Sir, but I do have a secret you probably will want to know.”
“What is it, Flickery Tock?”
Snickery leaned in, and motioned for the guard mouse to do the same. The guard mouse sighed and leaned in. Snickery said quietly, “The reason I said Snickery took your cap is because… I’m Snickery!” And he snatched the cap from the guard’s head and sprang away, running for the hall as fast as his legs would carry him.
“Snickery Tock!” the guard bellowed. “Return that at once!” Both guards bolted after him and as they rounded the corner out the door, Hickory and the other Tock children ran for the hole. As they ran, Flickery said, “I guess he’s not super-rat after all.”
Inside the hole was a short wide hall formed by a thick wooden beam on either side, obviously part of the structure of the floor above them. The floor of the hall was made of dirt. At one end a wooden beam blocked off the passage. Ahead of them another beam formed a wall with a hole through the center and a curtain covering it.
Flickery swallowed hard. “That’s Trickery’s personal chamber. You know going in there could get us banished, right?”
Chickory stuck out her chin. “Yes, I do.” She marched up to the curtain and pulled it back. “It’s The Dock’s chamber, and Hickory is the rightful Dock.”
Hickory said, “And besides, we have to get to my mom.” He passed through the opening into Trickery’s room, and the others followed. “It’s smaller than I expected.”
Compared to the hall it was small, and where they expected the walls to be made of wood like the hall, they were surprised. It seemed Trickery had moved a lot of dirt into the room and packed it tight against the walls. Even the wall with the opening they passed through had dirt mounded against it, up to the ceiling. It would be a cozy burrow for most mice—a little small, but cozy—but not what you’d expect after seeing the hall that led there, or what you’d expect for a manor mouse, let alone The Dock. Trickery had decorated the room similarly to Tickory’s dollhouse-workshop with furniture and wall hangings, but he had used pebbles and twigs for his furnishings with one exception; a doll house dresser with a mirror mounted atop it—large by mouse standards—nestled in an alcove in the dirt and pushed flat against the wall.
Chickory and Hickory looked at it and both said, “That looks out of place.” They looked at each other and smiled.
Flickery added, “And it’s large enough to hide a secret passage.”
Hickory grabbed hold of it. “Well let’s find out.” He gave it a tug and nothing happened. It didn’t move a hair’s breadth. He looked it over and noticed some scuffs on one of the drawers. He pulled it open and the whole dresser swung free from the wall like a door on a hinge. In fact the dresser was on a hinge, and when it moved a passage opened before them. A knob was mounted to the back side of the dresser. It was made from Trickery’s thimble. That’s why Unk had to come back for his thimble.
Chickory looked at how it was connected to the dresser. “Pretty crafty. It’s kinda complex, almost like a clockmouse made it.” She twisted it one way then the other and watched the latch mechanism move. “Really complex…. Dad could make something like this, but not a lot of other mice could. Trickery must have a hidden talent.”
Hickory frowned. “He seems to have a lot of things hidden.”
Chickory nodded as she pushed the thimble and twisted it. It popped off easily. Without the thimble, the latch wouldn’t budge.
Flickery said, “Speaking of Trickery… we should get going. What if the guardmice come back?”
Hickory said, “Good point.” They all stepped into the passage. Chickory reattached the thimble and latched the door shut before removing the thimble again. “Hopefully with this gone, he’ll have a hard time getting through.”
Hickory agreed. “Good thinking.”
The three of them started walking. The passage ahead was long and narrow. As they went, Hickory was struck by a question. He turned to Chickory. “Have you ever opened the door in a clock?”
Chickory frowned. “No.”
Flickery said, “It’s forbidden.”
Chickory said, “Yeah. Dad told us Trickery outlawed it once he became The Dock. Trickery claimed if they hadn’t been trying to go through the grandfather clock in the old cottage, you and your parents wouldn’t have gotten caught in the flash flood, and no one would have died.”
Flickery added, “Dad said the council thought it was just Trickery’s grief, and that he would eventually lift the ban on it.”
Chickory finished. “But he hasn’t in all the years we’ve been alive.”
Hickory said, “I see. That has to be frustrating for you.”
Hickory smiled at a thought and nudged her. “Hey! When I’m The Dock, I’ll lift the ban, and we can both go for a walk through a clock.”
Chickory looked at him gratefully and let out an expectant sigh. “That will be… a great day!”
After walking a while they noticed an opening ahead with a dim light filtering in. When they reached it, the passage opened out into a large cavern—large at least to mice. It dropped several feet straight down, and at the bottom an underground spring meandered by. Somewhere away to the right a stream of light was filtering in. It was an awesome sight with the water bubbling and moving through and over the rocks and the light playing in it, reflecting here and there.
Chickory said, “Wow, this place is… is…”
Hickory finished. “Really neat.”
Flickery smirked. “I’d have called it awesome, or amazing, but you’ve been cooped up in a cottage for nearly your whole life, so I guess neat works.”
Chickory elbowed him.
“Oof. I deserved that.”
Directly across the way was another hole leading in the general direction of the old cottage. Looking around they saw no way to reach the other side without passing through the spring. Hickory said, “Well, so much for my disguise. Looks like we’re getting wet.”
Flickery said, “I don’t mind.”
Chickory said, “Me either.” Then she looked at Hickory. “I like you better gray anyway.”
Before Hickory could respond, Flickery said in a very annoying-brother way, “Oh you do?”
Chickory elbowed him again.
“Ugh. I deserved that too.”
Hickory chuckled and began carefully climbing to the bottom of the cavern. The others followed. They reached the bottom near a shallow pool between three rocks. It was only a little deeper than they were tall, with water trickling in one side and slowly pouring out the other, then dropping down like a thin waterfall to faster flowing water below. A beam of light landed very near the center of the pool. From there they could see it came through a thin crack in the rocks that made up part of the ceiling. The light reflected and danced around the cavern.
Hickory stepped one foot in the water. “Whoa, that’s cold!” He looked for any other way across. [There isn’t one, Hick. _]He paused. [_I just called myself Hick. I’ve never done that before. That’s what Chickory called me back there with her mom. _]He smiled.[ I kinda like that._]
Flickery broke Hickory’s train of thought. “Are you just gonna stand there?”
“Oh… no. Here goes!” Hickory dove into the water. Instantly the thimbleberry juice began coloring the pool and slowly running out and away. Hickory was looking more like his old self by the moment.
Chickory looked him over. “Yeah… that’s more like it.” Flickery grinned at her and pushed her into the pool. As she fell she caught his tail, and dragged him—flailing—down with her. They both landed with a splash, and the shocked look on Flickery’s face was priceless.
“Oh, you’re good, Sis!”
Hickory and Chickory laughed, and Flickery splashed them, which launched a full-fledged water war. After a few minutes they were all exhausted from the splashing and laughing. Chickory called out, “Truce!” and Flickery stopped. The three of them climbed out onto the rocks and lay on their backs smiling, catching their breath as the last of the thimbleberry juice trickled away.
Hickory’s smile faded. “That was fun, you two. Thank you. I think I needed that, but we should get going. We’ve gotta find my mom.”
Chickory faced him and took his paw. “We will, Hick. We will.”
Hickory Dock Meets Murkey
With a little effort the mice crossed the stream and made their way to the hole in the opposite side of the cavern. It was smaller than the other passage, harder to navigate, and seemed less direct than they expected. They’d barely walked twenty steps when they suddenly heard an unfamiliar noise.
Flickery paused. “Um… guys, what’s that?”
It was a scraping—almost thumping-tapping—sound, making its way slowly toward them. Concern filled Chickory’s voice as she whispered, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard that sound before.”
Hickory peered into the darkness ahead. “I’ve heard it before, but I don’t remember where.” Where did you hear that before, Hick? He’d hardly asked the question when a long buried memory resurfaced, and his mind flashed back to the cottage when he was very little. Trickery was lecturing him about never going outside and how dangerous it was to leave the world. Then Hickory had heard that sound coming from a hole in the wall. Trickery had seemed startled. Just then a hairy eight-legged creature almost as big as Trickery entered the room. It had eyed them both and charged at Hickory.
Hickory returned to the here and now and fear filled his voice. “I know that sound! Quick, back to the cavern!”
The three mice turned and ran. The sound moved more quickly toward them. Hickory’s mind returned to the cottage all those years ago. Trickery had said the creature was a wolf spider. He had grabbed his thimble and put it on like a boxing glove. When the spider tried to bite at Hickory, Trickery shoved the thimble in its mouth. The spider stopped, looked at Trickery with eight frustrated eyes, and tried—ineffectively—to spit out the thimble. Trickery had raised his voice. “Knock it off, Murkey! The little mouse isn’t food unless I say he’s food.” The spider had squinted all eight eyes at him. Trickery had said, “Now, if you’ll behave I’ll remove that.” The spider had nodded.
Hickory blinked back to the present. Unk was friends with that thing. “Chickory, quick! Give me the thimble!” She passed it back to him, and he put it on his fist like Trickery had that day when Hick was little. The passage widened out at its mouth, and Hickory turned back to face the approaching sound.
Chickory paused. “What are you doing?”
Hickory braced himself and answered without looking back, “This thing is going to catch us and hurt us unless I stop it.”
Flickery asked, “What is it?”
“Wolf spider… I think.”
Both of the Tock children’s jaws dropped, and Chickory said, “You can’t stop a wolf spider with a thimble!”
Determination filled Hickory. “Actually, I think I can. Now, both of you stand back.”
Chickory was defiant. “No way! I’m standing with you!”
The sound drew rapidly closer. Hickory said, “This’ll be easier if it only has me as a target.” He looked back and caught her gaze. “Please, Chickory, step back.”
Against her will she agreed and turned back to the cavern. Quickly she and Flickery dropped out of sight and Hickory put his thimbled paw behind his back to await the spider. A moment longer and eight beady spider eyes caught a hint of light from the cavern. Hickory stood his ground, his heart thumping in his chest. The spider charged at him, ready to strike. In a blur Hickory reeled back, and swung with all his might to plug the spider’s mouth with the thimble. But it didn’t work. The spider’s mouth was too small. In fact the spider was shorter than Hickory remembered. The thimble struck the spider’s mouth.
“Ouch! That hurt!” the spider said and stopped in its tracks. Its voice sounded young—younger than Hickory—and its shoulders drooped in defeat.
Hickory was surprised it had given up so easily. That’s strange.
The spider looked at Hickory with sad eyes, knowing it was in trouble. “Mr. Trickery, Sir, I know you’re gonna tell my dad, but—” The spider stopped and took a closer look. “You’re not Mr. Trickery. But you’re in his cave… and you have his thimble. Who are you?”
Hickory braced himself for an attack in case the spider was trying to trick him. “I’m Hickory Dickory Dock. And you’re the wolf spider named Murkey, aren’t you?”
“Well, my name is Murkey… Murkey Junior. Miss Plumella likes to call me MJ. Are you really Hickory Dock?”
Hickory nodded, a little confused.
MJ said, “That’s neat! But what are you doing in Mr. Trickery’s tunnel? And how did you get his thimble? And don’t you know it’s dangerous for you to be in here? My dad—or my brothers—might catch you. Do you know how bad that would be?”
Hickory was getting really confused. “Wait! Stop asking me questions and let me ask you a few.”
“Oh, okay, Mr. Hickory.”
“Um… who are you?”
“I’m MJ. Like I said.”
“And how do you know my—um… Plumella?”
MJ hung his head in shame and answered with a voice full of sadness. “Because my family is how Mr. Trickery kept her from talking to you, and how he kept her from running away.”
Hickory looked at the little spider quizzically. “What do you mean?”
MJ shook his head. “If she told you she was your mom, then my dad and brothers would hurt you. If she tried to run away, they’d hurt her.”
Hickory raised his voice. “That’s despicable!”
MJ slinked back. “I know. I think it’s awful to keep someone from their mom. I never knew my mom, but your mom is really kind.” He straightened up. “That’s why I was chasing you. I thought you were Mr. Trickery. I was gonna pounce him and make him tell me where he keeps the key to the cage he put her in.”
“My Mom is in a cage?”
About this time Chickory and Flickery poked their heads up into the passage from the cavern. MJ jumped between Hickory and the others. “It’s your uncle, Mr. Hickory! Watch out! I’ll pounce him.” Again the little spider looked closer. “It’s actually two mice. You’d better run.”
Hickory put his paw on one of MJ’s legs. “It’s okay, MJ. They’re my friends.”
“Oh! There’s three of you? That’s better. There’s safety in numbers, or so I’ve heard.”
Hickory called to them. “It’s okay guys. It’s not the spider I thought.”
Chickory and Flickery cautiously approached, and Hickory said, “It really is okay. This is MJ. He’s friends with my mom.”
MJ said, “Yeah. She’s really neat.”
Flickery chuckled. “He talks like you. You must’ve both gotten that from her.”
Chickory elbowed her brother. “What he means is… uh, nice to meet you. I’m Chickory.”
“Nice to meet you, Miss Chickory. But I know it’s not really nice for mice to meet wolf spiders. It’s okay though. I understand.”
Chickory crossed her arms. “Hmm. You’re very polite. I like politeness. So I’ll have to say it is nice to meet you, even with you being a spider and all.”
MJ smiled and Flickery introduced himself. Hickory quickly brought them up to speed on the situation with MJ’s family. Chickory said, “Flickery and I are the Clockmouse’s kids. I’m sure we can figure out that lock. What’s the safest way to get to Hick’s mom?”
“Well… from outside there’s a cat in our way. I don’t like cats. And from inside there’s my family. I don’t much like them either, unfortunately.” He sighed and turned in a circle, looking down the long tunnel before facing them again. “Probably this way. If I lead the way I think I can get you through without anyone seeing you.”
They agreed and set off. They made good progress, but every so often MJ would stop and listen. A couple of times he told them to hide, but they’d been false alarms until they were almost there. MJ stopped again. The others held their places and perked up their ears. There was a sound like MJs first approach only heavier. “Oh no! It’s my brother Rock. If he finds you he’ll hurt you. He’s mean.”
They all looked for a place to hide. MJ said, “Quick run back around that last bend in the tunnel. I’ll try to get him to go away.” They did as he said, and a moment later a burly, mean-looking wolf spider came into view.
“Murkey! You little flea. What are you doing in this tunnel? This ain’t your post. Papa wants you guarding that mouse lady.”
“I’m not a flea, Rock. And… I got bored. That dumb mouse lady is boring. I felt like exploring.”
Rock looked hard at him. “Really?”
“Well, all she does is sit in that cage and try to talk to me. What does a mouse lady have to say that I care about?”
Rock squinted, thought about it a minute, then nodded and smiled. “You’ve got a good point, little brother, but Dad’ll feed you to a bird if that mouse escapes.”
MJ gulped, but kept his cool. “I know, but she’s not going to escape. The cage is locked, and only Mr. Trickery has the key. And I’m not afraid of any dumb old bird. If dad ever tried to feed me to one, I’d just bite it and bring it home for dinner.”
Rock laughed. “Wow, brother! You’re either getting braver or dumber. But all right… explore. I won’t say nothin’ to dad.”
Rock laughed again and gave MJ the spider equivalent of a noogie, then headed back the way he’d come. MJ waited ‘til it was safe, then sighed with relief and walked to the others. “It’s all right, mice. He’s gone. I’m sorry for what I said about your mother, Mr. Hickory.”
“That’s okay, MJ. I know you didn’t mean it.” Hickory looked down the tunnel. “So if your brother’s ahead of us, how can we continue?”
MJ smiled. “Well, up ahead the path branches out into a bunch of tunnels, and there are secret ways Miss Plumella knows that Mr. Trickery doesn’t.”
They went a little farther before turning down a passage that looked like it headed nowhere. MJ moved a heavy stone and behind it was a passage into the walls. Hickory felt strange. [_That’s the cottage. It was my home… my whole world… but it was a lie. And Unk made me feel like an orphan, but I have a mom. _]He stepped inside the cottage, stood up strong, and said, “Come on, Guys. Let’s go get my mom.”
Hickory Dock, a Cat, a Bird, and a Friend
They traveled a short way through the wall and suddenly MJ stopped. “Mr. Hickory, Sir, something doesn’t feel right in here. It’s drafty. It wasn’t drafty when I came through before.”
“Do you know what it means, MJ?”
“No, but we need to be careful. I don’t want you to get caught when you’re so close to your mom.”
They continued along the inside of the wall, quietly working their way to the corner. When they turned and made their way into the next wall, they discovered the reason for the draft. A three foot section of baseboard had been ripped away, opening out onto the kitchen and exposing the passage they were traveling. MJ gulped. “This passage used to be a secret. What could have opened it up so much?”
Chickory said, “I don’t know, MJ, but it would have to be big.”
Flickery added, “And strong.”
Before Hickory could put in his two cents, they heard the missing bit of floorboard go skittering across the kitchen floor followed quickly by the cat, who was leaping at it and batting it with his paws.
MJ was wide eyed—in all eight eyes—as he said, “Th-th-the cat is inside! I-I don’t like cats!”
The Tock Children chimed in together. “Me either!” They looked at each other, scowled, and said together again, “Stop that!” They scowled once more and fell silent; then everyone looked at Hickory.
“Well, I don’t like cats either, but I outran this cat before. I say we run for it.”
They all agreed, and spider and mice were just bolting across the open space when the cat batted the loose floorboard once more. It spun its way across the floor toward them. Moving in what seemed slow motion, it struck the wall just at the opening, tipped up, and wedged there. The path was blocked, and the cat was bounding their way. They froze, too afraid to move, and the cat stopped short.
It smirked and sat on its haunches.“Well, looky here! Hullo, Mousies.” He looked right at Hickory. “I recognize you. You’re the mouse what didn’t want to play yesterday. How nice. You came back with friends to make it up to me.” Hickory turned to run back the way they came, but the cat bounded ahead and blocked the way. “Why you runnin’, little mouse? Old Waldo got you scared? That’s me by the way—Waldo Fluffikins.”
Hickory trembled a little. “Um, I was hoping you’d follow me, so my friends could hide.” He looked back and none of them were in view.
Waldo chuckled. “Oh, you’re a brave mousy.” Then he shouted over his shoulder, “But I can smell you all! Even you, little eight legs!”
Hickory tried to run again, but Waldo batted at him in the playful way that cats will with mice, but mice do not enjoy at all. Even the relatively soft batting sent Hickory spinning across the floor.
From somewhere in hiding Chickory shouted, “Hick!” Then, “You big mean cat! Be nice to him!”
“Absolutely… when you come out to play too.”
Hickory got back on his feet and called out, “MJ, get them somewhere safe!”
Chickory shouted back, “I’m not going anywhere without—”
Hickory interrupted, “MJ, even if you have to pounce them, get them to go.”
“Yes, Mr. Hickory, Sir.”
Hickory could hear Chickory arguing with MJ as their voices drifted away.
Waldo the cat bowed in mock courtesy. “Well, you really are a brave little mousy. I’ll find them later. Right now, let’s you and I play.”
Waldo leaped at Hickory, and Hickory moved just in time. He ran and the cat chased. They zigged and zagged across the kitchen floor, and Hickory barely escaped several swipes of the cat’s paw. He tried not to be too obvious about his intended destination, but he was making his way—very indirectly—to the small hole in the kitchen floor that Unk always left through. He turned right, then left, and just dodged the cat’s paw both times. He turned a sharp left again and didn’t dodge the cat’s paw.
Waldo was only toying with Hickory so he didn’t use his claws, but Hickory spun and slid across the floor, and when he came to a stop Waldo Fluffikins was standing over him, grinning. “You make a good toy mousy, but I’m gettin’ hungry.”
Hickory noticed he’d stopped sliding only ten inches from the hole in the floor. Oh, God, if only I could distract him. It was a half-way prayer that he truly hoped would be answered, but just then Hickory got distracted. He squinted and stared up at the broken window.
Waldo hissed at him. “You ain’t gonna distract me that way, and you ain’t gonna make it to that hole either.”
Hickory kept staring. “Um… okay.”
A moment later a large boot dropped right on top of Waldo Fluffikins’ head. The cat yowled and spun to face its attacker as Hickory bolted for the hole in the floor. From the relative safety of the hole Hickory watched as a large bird dive-bombed the cat again and again. It had been the boot moving through the air outside the window that had distracted Hickory. Now the bird was chasing a frustrated and frightened Waldo Fluffikins all around the kitchen. In one dive the bird nipped Waldo’s tail with its beak, and Waldo bolted for the broken window. “I’m out of this place!” He leaped out the window never to return.
A minute later the bird—which happened to be a red-tailed hawk—landed on the kitchen floor and a red-furred mouse just about Hickory’s age jumped down from its back. “You can come out. It’s all right.” He patted the hawk’s foot. Bound to the red mouse’s wrist with twine was a small bit of Hawk feather. “Well done, Olister.” He looked around. “Truly. It’s all right, mice.”
Unsure what to make of the mouse and hawk duo, Hickory cautiously poked his head out of the hole. “Who are you? And how’d you do that?”
The red mouse bowed. “I’m Jaske of Rinholm. And if you mean how did I get Olister to chase the cat, that’s easy. He’s my friend. Friends help each other.”
Hickory eased himself up out of the hole, still unsure of Jaske and his companion. “Rinholm?”
“The central tree of the Tree Mouse Kingdom.”
Hickory puzzled at that. “You’re a tree mouse? So… why’d you help us? How’d you know to help us?”
Jaske casually leaned against Olister’s leg. “Well, birds talk to each other—even birds that don’t like each other—and an owl told Olister—”
MJ interrupted from somewhere out of sight. “Mr. Hickory, Sir, is it safe? I mean the bird, Sir.”
Hickory hadn’t made up his mind yet, but his heart was telling him it was. He looked into Olister’s eye. “Well? Are you safe for me and my friends?”
The hawk cocked its head, looked at Jaske, and let out a string of almost click-like chirping sounds. Jaske translated. “He says you’re safe with him if you’re friends of mine.”
Hickory nodded and chuckled. “Well then, let’s be friends.” He called to the others. “Come on out, guys. Meet Jaske and Olister.”
Flickery and Chickory scurried out of their hiding places, and MJ cautiously approached behind them. The moment Olister saw MJ, he leapt for the poor young wolf spider.
Hickory shouted, “Wait! He’s our friend!”
Olister was just about to snap him up with his beak when Hickory’s words registered. He stopped and turned his head back to face Hickory and Jaske. He let out a few confused sounding click-chirps, and Hickory explained, “He’s our friend. He’s helping us save my mom. Jaske, don’t let him eat our friend.”
Before anyone could say anything, Olister glanced from MJ to Hickory and then to Jaske and rattled off a few more clicking chirps. Jaske chuckled. “He said, in essence, he guesses it’s no stranger than the two of us being friends.”
Olister bowed his head to MJ and made his way back to Jaske. MJ said, “Th-thank you, Mr. Hawk, Sir, for not eating me.”
In moments Hickory had introduced them all, and MJ had explained that the other spiders in the house and surrounding area were not friends to any mice. Olister kept a watchful eye as Jaske explained how and why he had rescued them.
“As I was saying, Olister spoke with an owl whose pride had been wounded by mice that escaped him near the pricklebush barrier. He told him he almost got a gray-furred mouse, and my Aunt Martha is a gray-furred mouse. She lives beneath the pricklebush barrier. So Olister and I went to make sure she was okay.”
Hickory asked, “You’re Gregory’s nephew?”
“Well, by marriage. He’s my aunt’s husmouse.”
Chickory looked at Hick. “Gregory did say Martha was once a Tree Mouse. But that doesn’t explain how you knew we were here.”
Jaske smiled broadly at her. “That, Lovely Mouse, is the part I held back.”
Hickory didn’t like him calling her that.
Apparently neither did she. She scowled at him. “Hickory told you my name is Chickory.”
Jaske smiled again. “I know.”
Hickory frowned and furrowed his brow.
Flickery noticed and snickered at him.
Hickory rolled his eyes. [_I’m not sure I like this tree mouse. _]“So tell us the part you held back.”
Jaske looked at Hickory’s face and Chickory too. “Oh… I see. My compliment is an intrusion between you two. I apologize.”
Hickory and Chickory said together, “What? Wait. No.” Then they frowned at each other for their identical response.
Jaske chuckled and said to Flickery, “They don’t realize how obvious it is, do they?”
Flickery chuckled. “Nope.”
Hickory cleared his throat and tried to ignore his embarrassment. “So the rest of the story?”
Jaske smirked and bowed. “Certainly. At my aunt’s burrow,” he pointed to Flickery, “I met your twin. He had apparently escaped some guards or other who were chasing him and sought shelter with my aunt and uncle. When he told them where you had gone, Uncle Gregory was preparing a carrier ladybug to ask me and Olister to come. He was surprised by our arrival and asked us to bring you this.” He looked down at his side. “Uh… oh yes.” He hopped up on Olister’s back, climbed up to his neck, and fumbled with something the others couldn’t see. While he did, he said to Flickery, “Your brother asked me to say that you’d better pack a lot of adventure into your quest to top his escape from the guards.”
“Oh did he?”
Just then Jaske dropped something down that landed right in Hickory’s paws.
Hickory’s eyes grew wide. “My satchel!”
Jaske jumped down. “Yes, Hickory Dickory Dock, your satchel, whatever that is. Uncle Gregory didn’t explain, but he said you would probably need it, and he said your mom would know why.”
Hickory draped it over his shoulder, turned toward the hall door, and smiled. “Yes. She would. So let’s go ask her.”
Hickory Dock, and the Rest of the Truth
They made their way through the hall to the stairs and up to the attic door. Olister had to wait outside while the mice and spider squeezed under. Inside it was just as Hickory recalled, with boxes and knickknacks here and there—and of course the grandfather clock. It feels like forever ago since I first came into the attic and saw the clock. It still called to him, but now he knew why, and right now he was more concerned with finding his mom.
MJ took the lead. “This way, Mr. Hickory, Sir. We need to hurry. The hawk might be able to keep my family out if they come up that way, but if they come through the walls we’ll be caught.”
MJ led them around a large stack of boxes in the corner of the attic. There, with boxes piled on top and nearly all light blocked out, was the cage that held Plumella. She was lying down, resting, turned away from the cage door. As Hickory approached, his heart was a rush of emotion. He was trembling. [_That’s my mom in there. _]The others held back to give him a moment. He took a deep breath and quietly said, “Mom?”
Plumella startled at the sound of Hickory’s voice. She stood and turned. Hickory smiled at her, and she reached through the bars to touch his cheek. She said, “Oh, my little mouse, how long I’ve waited to hear you call me that! But what are you doing here? Why did you come back?”
“We came to rescue you.”
As he said the words, Chickory, Flickery, MJ, and Jaske all stepped into view.
“Oh, my darling, but you can’t!”
Chickory stepped forward. “I’m the Clockmouse’s first born, I’m sure I can figure out that lock.”
Plumella smiled. “I’m sure you can, Dear. You must be Chickory Tock, Tickory and Jolee’s child. Look at you! And those are your brothers? Your mother was so looking forward to your birth the last time I saw her.”
Chickory said, “Well, that one’s my brother Flickery. The other one’s a longer story. His name is Jaske.”
MJ waved to her. “Hi, Miss Plumella. You know me.”
She smiled at him and nodded, then addressed the others. “I am very pleased to meet you all.” She looked at Hickory. “And I’m very pleased you know the truth. It has pained me all these years to be so distant, but your uncle’s plan was very well conceived. I sought for years to find a way to set you free, to tell you the truth. I feared for you nearly every day.”
Hickory had a surge of protective instinct. “Then let’s have you out of that cage and be on our way. The mouse counsel will understand Trickery’s a bad mouse if they see you’re still alive.”
Plumella took his hand through the bars. Tears formed in her eyes, “Oh, my son.” she paused and sighed. “It feels so good to finally call you that. I can’t leave. Trickery has another means of keeping me bound. If he finds I’ve escaped, he will flood the lower floor of the manor. Somehow he caused the flood on the day we supposedly died. I don’t know how, but I know beyond a doubt he did.”
Hickory thought about what that meant. My father was killed in that flood. “You mean my father died because of Uncle Trickery?”
“Oh, dear sweet mouse, no. Your father is alive—at least I believe he is—trapped beyond the clock by your uncle.”
Hickory’s mind felt like it might just stop working all together.
[_I have a mom. I have a dad. I never knew either were alive. Trickery the deceiver kept me from them. But I’m an eighth great! I can open clocks. I could have rescued them. But Trickery never let me learn about clocks! _]
He wanted to cry, but he closed his mouth tight and furrowed his brow. His breath was shuddering, but he spoke through it and gained strength with every word. “Mom, I think you’re right. I think that’s why Trickery kept us apart. It’s why he never let me learn about clocks, why he never let me go outside. He was afraid I’d learn something or be discovered, and that’s why he’s afraid of me. I can set things right.”
He kissed the back of his mother’s paw, let go, and looked her in the eye. “I thought I was here just to rescue my mom, but it’s more. I’m here to rescue my parents and every mouse from Trickery Trickery Dock!”
Hickory’s words lent strength to all of them. Jaske felt privileged to be there for such a moment. Flickery saw his Dock (his rightful king). Chickory took Hickory’s hand, amazed at the strength he’d found. And Plumella looked on with the deepest pride. “You are a vision of your father, Hickory.” Hickory smiled.
MJ cleared his throat and broke the moment. “Um, Mr. Hickory, Sir. So what are we going to do?”
Hick thought about that. “Well, first Chickory and Flickery are going to get that lock undone so my mom can escape when the time is right. Then you’re going to go back to guarding her in case your family comes back. And the rest of us are going to find a door in a clock to bring back my dad—the rightful Dock.”
Plumella smiled broadly at him and wiped away a joyful tear.
While the Tock children picked the lock, Plumella explained what the shiny metal object in Hickory’s satchel was. “Not every clock is a door-clock, and not every door-clock door opens easily. Some of the older and grander door clocks must be opened as many human doors are, by turning the knob.”
Chickory smacked herself in the forehead with her palm. “So it’s a doorknob!”
“That’s right. I hid it from Trickery, believing if he had it he would use Hickory to open the door and ultimately bring harm on my husband. The satchel was a gift from a mouse leader somewhere beyond the hall between clocks.”
Flickery said, “That’s where the clock troll lives.”
Everyone was very polite except Chickory, who rolled her eyes and chuckled.
Now, with MJ guarding his mother, his doorknob satchel slung over his shoulder, and his three new friends standing with him, Hickory Dickory Dock the Eleventh was about to do the craziest, most amazing thing he had ever done. They climbed the clock and stood in front of its face. Hickory started to ask, “How will I know where the door—” Then the clock struck one, and a sliver of blue light began working its way across the face of the clock from just right of the number 6 on up to the center and over toward the 3 then down past the 4 and off the face, working its way back to where it started. With a magical tinkling sound, the space between lit up and shattered into a million sparkling bits of light that faded before they hit the ground. In that space stood a beautifully carved door—as worthy a bit of art as any clockmaker ever made or door hanger ever hung, with one exception: where one would expect a knob, there was nothing.
Hickory was aquiver with excitement. He looked at the others. “Do you see that?!”
Chickory said, “Yes!” at the same time Jaske and Flickery said, “No.”
Hickory and Chickory frowned and looked at each other, then at the others. Chickory said, “The door’s not open, and they’re not Eighth Greats.”
“Well then…” Hickory pulled the knob out of his satchel, looked approvingly at its brass gleam, and held it up to the door. A force took hold of the knob and pulled almost magnetically against the wood. There was a sound like a cork popping in reverse, and the knob and door were one. He smiled broadly. “Let’s see if they can see now.” He took a deep breath, turned the knob, and pulled. The door swung free, and a wash of blue light poured out. All four of them stood there gaping. The swirling blue light inside the door was the single most beautiful thing any of them had ever seen.
Flickery said, “Every time dad told the story of the first Hickory, I imagined what this would look like. Wow! My imagination didn’t touch this.”
It was the moment of truth—the moment Hickory knew he’d been born for. “Here goes!” he said, and stepped through the door into the swirling light.
I sincerely hope you enjoyed The First Book. I know you have questions. (at the end of writing The First Book I did too.) So, what happens next? What’s beyond the door? Is there a clock troll? Is Hickory Senior alive or dead?
All good questions.
For the answers, pick up The Second Book. There you’ll find Hickory and company’s adventure completed (most satisfactorily—in my personal opinion). I hope you’ll pick it up and enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you’re interested visit the book page on GenoAllen.com or check your favorite source for eBooks:
The Adventures of Hickory Dock: The Second Book.
Also, if you enjoyed Hickory and company’s adventure, you might want to read more of my books….
- Butterfly Magic (written by my mother when I was a kid, but edited and somewhat expanded by me… after I was grown)
- How to be a Hero
- How to be a Hero, Volumes 1 & 2 (contains both stories thus rendering the original moot)
- Treasures of Darkness Treasures of Light, Book One: Through the Dark Wood
- Treasures of Darkness Treasures of Light, Book Two: Along the Old King’s Road (coming soon)
- The Other Thief: an Easter Monologue (the Crucifixion from the perspective of the thief who asked Jesus to remember him)
GENO ALLEN writes from a child-like heart about things serious and frivolous. If he had his way, he’d love to build a grown-up-sized tree house by a river for writing, resting, drawing, reflecting, and having an adventure or two (or three). For more about Geno Allen, or to keep up on his pending projects, go to GenoAllen.com.
And… just in case you’re interested in seeing it, here’s Geno’s original concept for the cover art. He drew it to inspire himself to keep writing when he only had a handful of chapters written.
Never give up on your dreams, but always be willing to see if they lead somewhere other than you expected.
This mouse did Way more than just run up a clock! A stormy wind wracks the “world”, and Hickory is afraid again. His first ever glimpse of sunlight shatters the darkness and sparks an adventure he never could have imagined. Join Hickory Dock the Eighth Great and his new friends as they embark on a journey of discovery full of dangers, intrigues, daring leaps of faith, and the folklore of the mouse world. An inexperienced young mouse, sheltered his whole life, Hickory knows the odds are stacked against him. Will he have the strength of heart needed for the road ahead? Grab your nap sack and venture with Hickory as he finds out what it truly means to bear the renowned name Dock. This book is a 9 chapter preview of The Adventures of Hickory Dock, a sweet and sentimental coming-of-age, adventure tale that will appeal to all ages. Get ready for an adventure of a lifetime. — — — — HICKORY DOCK lives in a cottage on the outskirts of a town he's never known the name of. He doesn't even know the cottage is called a cottage. To him, it's simply the world. You see, he's a mouse. But not just any mouse. He's the great great great great great great great great grandson of the original Hickory D. Dock. The one of whom such a great fuss was raised all those years ago with him running up and down a clock and it striking one and all that. However, Hickory is not allowed to hear that tale, for in it lies a great secret. Download: epub