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The Rescuers in Manhattan

A sequel to the Rescuers animated film series, based on the best-selling 'Bernard and Miss Bianca' novels by Margery Sharp

The Rescuers in Manhattan

 

Based on the novels ‘Miss Bianca and the Bridesmaid’ and ‘Bernard into Battle’ by Margery Sharp, published by Little, Brown and Company.

Story written by: Hyaku-Legger

 

It was raining hard outside. The water rushed down from the dark clouds, flooding the gutters and rushing down the building sides with great force until it pooled upon the pavement below. Indoors, though, all was peaceful, for it was the hour at which most folks are at deep slumber.

Miss Bianca, a beautiful white mouse, was sitting on her bed at home in her laced nightgown, listening to the news on a small radio receiver. It was very bad news indeed. Another child had disappeared most mysteriously during the night, and once again only a toy doll was found on the street, near the child’s house. Parents were desperate. The police were baffled, for they didn’t have a single clue.

Miss Bianca switched the radio off and sighed, feeling rather fretful about the gloomy news. For little more than a week the radio, television and papers had been speaking about a strange series of kidnappings, the victims were always small children between three and eight years of age. It was considered quite normal in the community to hear about one or two kidnappings now and then, but these most recent ones were getting a lot of people uneasy because of the way they took place, in absolute silence and with no traces whatsoever.

Miss Bianca sighed again. She looked at her small bedside table made from cedar wood. On top of it was a photograph of herself holding the arm of a brawny, handsome brown mouse with short firm whiskers and a big smile. Miss Bianca treasured that picture dearly. She adored it, and she adored the mouse in the picture even more. His name was Bernard, and there wasn’t a braver or more gallant mouse than him in the entire world. Along the top and bottom of the frame there was a poem engraved, which Miss Bianca had written herself when she first met Bernard. It read:

 

Though timid beats the female heart,

Tempered only by Cupid’s fires,

The touch of a heroic hand,

With unaccustomed bravery inspires.

                                                           M. B.

 

In front of the picture, there was a small velvety box. Miss Bianca took the box in her paws and opened it. Inside was a beautiful ring with a precious jewel incrusted in it. A very warm smile soon lightened Miss Bianca’s gloomed face as she caressed the ring fondly, for she knew that in April of that year, with the first hints of spring, she would be wearing that ring, standing in front of a priest at his altar and beside her beloved Bernard, eager to pronounce the words ‘Yes, I do’ when asked if she accepted to be wed to this wonderful mouse.

She pictured herself at the daintily decorated chapel, with her white silvery wedding gown, Bernard in his dark, elegant tuxedo and the Deacon Owl from Devil’s Bayou in front of them leading the lovely ceremony. Beside them, as the bridesmaid and best man, their friends Ellie Mae and Luke; Ellie Mae nudging Luke awake. Deadeye and Digger standing behind them in the first row with their best suits, Gramps in his best also and with his shell nicely polished leading the musical band of Mouse Scouts. Afterwards, everyone cheering as she and Bernard opened the wedding ball with a dance, Evinrude the dragonfly letting silvery confetti fall overhead. Ellie Mae elegantly leading the ladies and applauding to the lovely couple, Luke leading the men for a toast to the bride and groom, and everyone else simply enjoying the wonderful moment.

And then, at the climax of the waltz, Bernard gazing into Miss Bianca’s eyes, both their eyes dreamy, their faces drawing closer to each other. Miss Bianca and Bernard felt their whiskers touch, twitching with both excitement and anticipation. Their furry lips getting closer, and closer…until they expressed all their deepest affection with a sweet, unforgettable kiss.

Miss Bianca suddenly woke up from her daydream and found herself hugging tightly and kissing her laced pillow, with her bed sheet around her as a gown. She smiled and giggled, replacing them back on her bed. She could hardly wait for the first breath of spring to come.

“Oh, Bernard, my darling. Dear Bernard,” she said to herself. “Oh, dear sweet Bernard, you’ve made my life so happy, my love. I am so very, very grateful.”

With great care and affection, Miss Bianca replaced the ring in the box in front of the photograph. Then she gave the picture of Bernard a little good-night kiss, took off her slippers and got ready for bed.

She felt, however, rather uneasy. It was because the news of these last days had been so grief-stricken that she couldn’t help but to think about the poor children. As she lied down comfortably in bed between her pink silk covers and closed her eyes, she couldn’t help wondering why there was so much evil in the world. So many bad people who thought nothing of harming others out of spite. Who was the person behind these kidnappings? What was the motive?

Troubled thoughts such as these prevented her from falling asleep, and she knew that no matter how hard she tried, she would not be able to drift off to slumber that night.

Unable to think of anything else clearly, she rose from her bed, put her slippers on and paced around the room, gathering her thoughts.

“If only I could let it all go,” Miss Bianca said to herself. “I’m sure I’d feel so much better if I could share my troubles.”

And indeed she could.

Miss Bianca paused and looked at the clock over her desk near the bed. It was quarter past ten. It certainly wasn’t so late. It was quite a normal calling hour for mice.

Almost without thinking, like a cart on rails, she got out of her laced nightgown and put on her purple rain cloak, reached for her umbrella and her pink hood (in case the occasion of going out into the rain presented itself) and before she knew it was on her way out, walking to the lift that led downstairs to the second floor. She needed to seek comfort to her uneasiness, and knew just where to find it.

                                               *          *          *

“And as before, the police are baffled by the mysterious disappearance of yet another child, this time a small five year old boy named Johnny McMillan,” said the news announcer. “Once again the only clue, a clown doll which is Johnny’s favorite toy, was found on the sidewalk of City Hall, half a block away from the child’s house. The child’s parents manifested their resentment for the scarce action from the Mayor’s part and the futility of the police’s efforts to get to the bottom of these kidnappings…”

The small television screen showed a picture of a small five year old boy, who had been the last child to disappear mysteriously. There had been altogether eight children in little more than a week. It was indeed something to worry about. Sitting on his bed in his robe as he watched in concern, the gallant Bernard thought deeply about what could be the cause of such baffling disappearances.

“There must be a trace,” Bernard said to himself as he frowned and rubbed his chin. “Something to follow.”

Criminals always leave some trace of evidence, no matter how small. That the police had absolutely no leads to this case was very disturbing indeed. The children disappeared leaving only dolls behind as the only imprecise clues, as if something else were taking them, something not quite from this world. There was something behind these kidnappings that was quite uncanny indeed.

Unable to find an answer, and with a yawn of evident drowsiness, Bernard got up, switched the television off and got ready to go to bed.

Just as he placed his slippers neatly beside his bed and was putting on his nightcap, though, he heard a very familiar soft knock at his door.

“Coming,” called Bernard.

Bernard got up, put his robe back on and walked to the door, unfastening the lock and opening it.

It was Miss Bianca.

“Hello, darling,” said Miss Bianca tenderly. “I hope I’m not intruding.”

Bernard was more than happy to see her.

“Why, of course not, Bianca!” he said. “Come on in…oh! Oh my!”

He remembered that he had his nightcap on and quickly removed it, blushing with a bit of coyness.

Miss Bianca just giggled warmly and rubbed Bernard’s cheek with her soft paw, giving the other cheek an affectionate kiss.

“Thank you,” she said, and they went inside.

Minutes later, Miss Bianca was sitting down at Bernard’s small round table as Bernard poured her a glass of cool milk from a glass jug. He sat down facing her as she kindly poured him some milk too. As she did so, she glanced at Bernard’s small trophy cabinet in the right corner of his flat, beside to the kitchen door, always well polished and neat. A small assortment of medals and other little treasures was neatly placed behind the glass. There was the Jean Fromage medal, the Tybalt Star for Gallantry in Face of Cats, and a trophy that Bernard had won during the Sports Day competitions. Bernard always kept these little treasures well polished and shiny.

As she looked at him and they raised their glasses, Bernard noticed Miss Bianca’s uneasy look.

“Is there anything worrying you, dear?” asked Bernard kindly.

“Yes, I’m afraid,” said Miss Bianca. “It has made me feel quite weary these past few days.”

“I’m all ears, if you need them,” said Bernard.

Miss Bianca smiled tenderly at him and sipped some of the sweet refreshing milk. Then she spoke.

“The news is the same every day,” said Miss Bianca. “A child is disappearing every night, simply vanishing without trace. It’s been more than a week since these kidnappings started. Nobody sees them, nobody hears them…they just vanish.”

“Yes, and the strangest thing is that there’s always a toy doll found near their houses,” said Bernard, who was well informed of the case too. “And even if the doors are locked and chained, they still disappear and the locks are never disturbed. Not even windows are pried open either from inside or out.”

“What could this all mean?” Miss Bianca pondered. “It’s just not like anything we’ve ever heard before.”

“True,” said Bernard. “The facts are just so nonsensical. It doesn’t fit together in any way I can think of.”

 “It’s so…unnatural,” said Miss Bianca. “As if they are being taken away by someone or something that doesn’t quite belong to this world.”

These kidnappings were indeed very strange. They didn’t seem like kidnappings at all; more like alien abductions. Some people had already started saying things about aliens invading Earth and taking the children away to run experiments on them. Bernard didn’t believe this; he might have been a bit superstitious (he had triskaidekaphobia, which means fear of the unlucky number 13), but he didn’t believe in aliens.

Bernard closed his eyes and thought. What could it all lead to? All the facts were completely mystical. It just didn’t fit in with anything logical.

Suddenly, the telephone in the corner rang. Bernard excused himself and went to answer it. Actually, it was a human-sized telephone, but Bernard had ingeniously adapted it to his flat.

“Hello?...Uh…yes, that’s me…What?...Right now?” Bernard spoke. “But why?...Really?...Yeah, she’s here. I’ll tell her…We’ll be there immediately. Alright.”

Bernard hung up the phone and turned to Miss Bianca.

“Emergency meeting at the Society headquarters,” said Bernard as he walked to his wardrobe. “We must be there immediately. It’s of vital importance.”

Miss Bianca looked baffled.

“Emergency? What is it, darling?” inquired Miss Bianca.

“I don’t know exactly,” said Bernard hurriedly putting on his mackintosh, “but I do have a hunch about what it’s all about.”

He did up the buttons and turned to Miss Bianca.

“The missing children,” Bernard said.

They looked at each other and understood exactly what this meant. The police were no use. It now lay in the Rescue Aid Society’s paws to solve this case and bring the children back home, if they were indeed alive.

“If there’s anyone willing to help, it’s our Society,” said Bernard. “If there’s a good lead we might just have an idea as to where to start searching.”

“If there’s any clue…any clue at all, then we’ll surely solve this case,” said Miss Bianca getting up. “Oh, Bernard, do you think they’ve found something important?”

“Let’s hope so, for the sake of those poor children,” said Bernard very concerned.

Bernard switched the lights off and locked the door of his flat. Then Miss Bianca took hold of his arm and they walked towards the lifts to get down to Headquarters on the basement floor, where they hoped they’d find answers to this baffling, disturbing case.

                                                           *          *          *

“Delegates! This is no time for chattering! Order please!” called out the Chairman from his platform.

The Rescue Aid Society’s members were all seated on the matchbox benches with the names of their countries on little plates in front of each of their desks. Most of them had been attending social or diplomatic events, so everyone was as sleepy as a hibernating marmot. Bernard and Miss Bianca took their seats and waited for the meeting to start.

When there was sufficient silence, the Chairman opened the meeting.

“Now then, we shall pass directly to the facts, for we have no time to loose,” said the Chairman clearing his throat. “As most of you may know, in the last weeks there has been a series of disappearances of small children. One child vanishes every night leaving no clues. However, we have received an item that could be the key to solving this mystery. Only minutes ago, we’ve received a piece of evidence that may be a vital clue to finding the whereabouts of these children and whether they’re alive or not. The evidence is this.”

The Chairman raised a large piece of plastic wrap with writing on it. The writing had been done with indelible ink so that the plastic wrapper could be folded and thrown into the water.

“This plastic wrapper was found in a sink at a certain building here in the city, shooting out of the faucet when it was in use,” said the Chairman. “It was evidently cast into the plumbing system to emerge in some home and it deliberately calls for help.”

The Chairman placed the paper in front of a magnifying glass that had been placed upright in front of the platform so that all the delegates could see the writing. It read:

 

“Help! We are being held prisoners in…wers of the city. The wicked d…..er is behind the…help…still alive, but not for long. Grace.”

 

“This wrapper was brought by a courier mouse from the Morningside Orphanage,” said the Chairman.

Bernard and Miss Bianca’s hearts gave a skip! Morningside Orphanage! It was the place where Penny, the orphan they saved from the Devil’s Bayou, had lived before she was adopted.

“As you can see,” continued the Chairman. “The water has erased some vital pieces of information. Nonetheless, we must take the case immediately and get to the bottom of it for the wellbeing of these younglings. Delegates, volunteers please!”

The Chairman took one look at the meeting hall and was shocked. Everyone was asleep!

Everyone was either snoring or twitching in their sleep, some slumped over their desks and others leaning against their fellow agents.

Everyone…except two little mice in the middle row. Bernard and Miss Bianca.

“Well then,” said the Chairman grinning. “I suppose we’ve no other options, have we? If I may say so, I wouldn’t prefer it any other way. After all, you two are our star agents.”

Miss Bianca and Bernard looked at each other, that little spark of excitement clearly shining in their eyes. They were worried about the children and they’d do anything they could to help them. This was a case that they were determined to solve, regardless of any difficulties.

“Bianca. We’re on the case!” Bernard said ardently.

“Yes! Let’s go, darling!” said Miss Bianca enthusiastically.

They stood up.

“We’ll take the assignment!” they said in unison.

And so it was.

                                               *          *          *

zoo.jpg

The rain got worse and worse as the heroic mice hurried down the streets towards the orphanage in their rain clothes. Miss Bianca had already had her cloak and hood on, so they stopped at Bernard’s flat for a few minutes so he could get his yellow raincoat and some other little things that they’d find useful, such as a flashlight and a small penknife.

“Never know when they might come in useful,” said Bernard as he pocketed the items.

They knew the way to the orphanage very well, only it was very difficult because some puddles were very deep and had to be avoided, plus the water that flowed with a sturdy current down the storm drains beside the sidewalks was a hazard as well.

After a lot of walking under the umbrella and making way around strong currents of water, they reached the foot of the building. There it stood, with its iron railings and warm, welcoming air.

“Well, this is our first stop,” said Bernard. “Let’s see what we can find.”

They climbed up the steps and crawled under the door. Soon they were in one of the dormitories.

A few children were sleeping soundly in their beds. Miss Bianca and Bernard hurried past them. Mice don’t make noise as they walk, nor even as they run, so they could search thoroughly without waking the orphans.

They checked around the orphanage looking for someone who might help them, someone who had seen what happened when the message was found.

“Bernard, over here!” said Miss Bianca. “It’s Mr. Rufus. He’ll surely know something.”

Bernard came over to where she was. Close to a corner of the room there was a small broom closet, and inside was an old, whiskery cat named Rufus. Rufus was too old and tired to chase mice, so there was no danger. Plus he knew them already.

The mice walked over to him and tried to wake him up.

“Mr. Rufus,” said Bernard tapping the cat’s paw. “Mr. Rufus, please wake up.”

The cat mumbled something sleepily.

“Er, what…who…who’s calling?” he said yawning.

Rufus’s eyes opened and he saw two little rodents before him. His instinct got the better of him for a moment.

“Huh!? MICE! IN MY CLOSET! SHOO SHOO, you…you…oh, it’s…it’s only you two,” said Rufus. “Well, what’s…what can I do…for you…this time?”

“Uh, hello Mr. Rufus,” said Bernard, “Long time no see.”

“How have you been?” said Miss Bianca.

“Well, er…fine, better since those new vitamin pills came out…but, wait, you surely didn’t come all this way just to say ‘Hi’ now, did you?” Rufus said.

“Well uh, no,” said Bernard, “I guess we might as well get to the point.”

They sat down on the handle of a paintbrush that was lying on the floor.

“Mr. Rufus, there was a child disappearance not long ago, like the other ones that took place every night since last week,” said Bernard.

“Yeah, I’ve heard ‘bout it all,” said Rufus. “Poor little younglings.”

“And a message was sent through the city’s plumbing and ended up here at the orphanage,” continued Bernard. “We’d like to know if you can help us.”

“Can you tell us something about it?” asked Miss Bianca.

“Oh, that! Well, I sure can!” said Rufus.

Bernard and Miss Bianca shifted closer together and listened carefully.

“You see, I was sittin’ down in the dinning room waiting for the children to finish their suppers, when suddenly the cook came out and talked urgently to the matron who was sitting with the children. The two good ladies had grim faces on, so I followed and eavesdropped to find out what was goin’ on,” told Rufus. “Well, it seems that the cook was cleaning her dishes when suddenly the faucet got stuck with somethin’, so she bent over to see what it was and pulled out a little piece of plastic wrap. It had writing on it, a message for help, so they called the police and showed it to ‘em. The police couldn’t make out much of the writing, so they said it was not a liable clue, and the wrapper was discarded. And then, well, I guess some rodent folk musta found it and sent it to you, cause you’re here, aren’t you?”

Bernard and Miss Bianca felt very indignant at the way the police just threw away things that could save lives. But that’s the way humans are.

“If it came through the plumbing,” said Bernard. “Then someone must have put it in the water pipes that run underground. But how?”

“Maybe if we follow the water pipes, we might get somewhere,” suggested Miss Bianca. “But all the pipes lead to the purifying plant that supplies the city; it’s full of workers, they would have noticed the missing children if they were there.”

“Yeah, they couldn’t be there,” said Bernard rubbing his chin. “Still, the pipes are a riddle. How and where?”

“Well, I say we all just sit and think a bit more…huh?” Rufus stopped suddenly, “What was that?”

Coming from the dormitory, a small voice was heard. It sounded like a very small person.

“It sounds like somebody speaking,” said Miss Bianca.

“Is there anyone else with you?” asked Rufus.

“No,” said Bernard puzzled. “Just the two of us.”

Bernard and Miss Bianca got up, peered from behind the half-closed door and saw something very unusual indeed. It was a teddy bear. It was moving about and talking! It was trying to wake up the child it belonged to, who was asleep in his bed.

“Now what in the world? Talking teddy bears! My, toys sure are getting more modern by the day!” said Rufus. “What’s next? Self-running cars?”

But Bernard and Miss Bianca didn’t like the look of it one bit.

“Shhh,” said Bernard. “Listen.”

“Jackie!” said the bear in a very cute little voice. “Jackie, wake up!”

The little boy, maybe six or seven years old, woke up.

“Huh?” he said rubbing his eyes.

“Jackie, it’s me! Buddy, your bear!” said the teddy bear. “I’m your best friend, you’re my best friend, remember?”

The child looked at the bear and his eyes went wide.

“Buddy? BUDDY! YOU CAN TALK!” he exclaimed.

“Shhh! Now, don’t wake everybody up, Jackie! First, I want to play with you, then we can tell the others that a magic fairy brought me to life!,” said the bear.

“Wow! Wait till everyone sees this!” said Jackie excitedly.

“Now, wouldn’t you like to meet the kind fairy? And all my friends?” said the bear.

“Oh, boy! You bet! Is she like the tooth fairy?” asked Jackie.

“Y-yes, just like the tooth fairy. She might even give you a dime. Or a whole dollar!” said the bear. “Now come on, let’s go, pal! Follow me.”

All this time, Bernard and Miss Bianca were watching spellbound at the scene. Rufus’s eyes were as wide as cartwheels behind his spectacles.

“Come on, champ! Let’s go play with my friends!” said the bear.

Jackie got up and followed Buddy the teddy bear, who opened the window and jumped out.

Rufus, Bernard and Miss Bianca looked at each other. They all knew exactly what the other had in mind, and knew what was happening.

Rufus bolted out after the boy.

“We’ve got to stop them!” said the cat.

The mice ran after the cat. Rufus tried to tug Jackie’s nightshirt, but the child seemed to be under some kind of spell.

“Quick! You must stop him!” said Rufus desperately.

“No! Mr. Rufus, wait! Don’t wake him up!” said Bernard suddenly.

Miss Bianca suddenly thought the same thing Bernard had in mind.

“Maybe if we follow him, he’ll lead us to the other children!” she said.

The boy had already climbed out the window and was walking towards the street. The mice ran after him. Rufus tried to follow, but suddenly the window closed in front of him, as if it too had been under some sort of enchantment. He looked frantically at the little mice, chasing after the boy across the garden. It now lay in their little paws to rescue the children.

Fortunately, the rain had stopped, but the pavement was wet and a bit slippery.

Bernard and Miss Bianca followed Jackie all the way across the street. The teddy bear suddenly stopped at a manhole that led to the sewers.

“We’re here, Jackie!” said the teddy bear.

“Oh boy! Now do we play?” asked Jackie.

Suddenly the manhole burst open, and something came out. It was too dark to see what it was.

“NO! NOW I PLAY!” said the figure and seized the boy.

“Huh! Who’re you?! LET ME GO! HELP! HEEEEEELP!” cried Jackie, but the figure placed a long, dark hand over his mouth and silenced him.

“IN WE GO!” said the thing and jumped again down the manhole.

The teddy bear, who had been standing in the middle of the street, seemed suddenly to have the life taken away from it and slumped to the ground, lifeless, once again nothing but a plush toy.

Bernard and Miss Bianca were running at top speed, holding paws, slip-sliding to get to the manhole. They had seen the whole thing happen and were desperate.

Bernard tried to lift the cover, and did only enough for Miss Bianca to squeeze under and grab onto the ladder below. He then let the cover drop and looked around for another entrance. There was a storm drain nearby!

“Bianca! I’ll go in through that drain!” he said through the small holes on the manhole cover, “Wait for me at the foot of the ladder.”

Miss Bianca nodded and descended along the ladder into the sewer below. Bernard used his tail as a trapeze and carefully descended through the gap in the drain and landed on the concrete floor below. He dashed back to where the manhole was and found Miss Bianca jumping off the last rung of the ladder.

Suddenly, they heard a muffled scream.

“HEEELP! HEEEEELP!” cried the child’s voice.

This was followed by the coldest, most unearthly voice the mice had ever heard. It made their whiskers shiver and sent a chill along their spines.

“It’s no use screaming, child,” said the icy voice. “No one will ever hear you.”

“THAT WAY!” said Miss Bianca and they ran in the direction the voice came from.

They came to a fork, taking the right path.

“Heeeelp,” the boy cried in the distance.

“You wanted to play, didn’t you? How about a game of ‘hide and seek’? You hide and the police look for you,” said the voice. “The only catch is…they’ll never find you.”

The mice turned left at another fork.

“You have ceased to exist for the world above,” said the cold voice.

The voices sounded fainter and fainter, more distant, but the brave little mice ran and ran.

Suddenly, they came to a big room with no less than eight tunnels leading to different paths. They were a bit overwhelmed, because the voice was no longer heard.

“Oh no! We’ll never find him on time like this!” said Bernard. “They must have left a trail!”

But as they examined the floors of the sewer, they found no trace of tracks or footprints anywhere. Nothing to follow.

“Oh, dear” said Miss Bianca. “They’re gone! And we were so close to solving the mystery.”

She and Bernard sat down for a moment to catch their breath. They felt quite lost. The sewers extended very far beneath the city. It would be impossible to search the whole place before the next child was abducted.

The whole business was indeed mysterious, and now that they had their breaths back, the mice realized just how uncanny the whole thing was.

The abductor somehow used the toys as bait to lure the children into his clutches. The children’s confidence and trust in their beloved dolls led them to follow blindly, heading towards the sewers, where they disappeared.

The chase had actually generated more questions than answers. What was the meaning of all this kidnapping? How did the toy dolls talk and walk to lure the children into the shadows? And who was that eerie figure that ran off with the children?

At least a few things were explained: The message that got to the orphanage was probably placed into a water pipe with a large leak, a leak big enough to slip the wrapper into the pipe; it was sent by one of the children, so they all had to be down there, somewhere; the abductor was a man because of the voice; and that was why all the toys were found on the street, because once they had been used to lure the children they suddenly lost all life and became toys once more.

After piecing all this together, our friends found new determination.

“It makes a bit of sense now. They have to be down here somewhere. We can’t give up now,”said Bernard, “We’ve come this far. There has to be some way to find those children.”

Miss Bianca looked up and smiled.

“You’re right, darling,”she said, “We can find them. We’ll search the whole sewer together, and with some luck, we’ll save those poor children.”

Bernard stood up and looked around once more.

Miss Bianca did the same.

“Now, there has to be some trace of them somewhere,”said Bernard, “They couldn’t just disappear.”

On one side, though, they were also afraid to find a trace, such as blood or something worse. At times like this, one doesn’t know what’s worse.

The room they were in had eight tunnels for draining water branching out in different directions. There were eight paths to choose from.

“Which one do we follow?,”asked Miss Bianca, “They’re all the same.”

“Let’s see, if I were running away from someone, I’d choose the second path to the right to confuse my pursuers,”said Bernard.

“Well, let’s try that one then,”said Miss Bianca.

They walked up to the tunnel and entered. It was dark, but with the help of the flashlight that Bernard had brought they were able to navigate the place without much trouble.

The nights in the sewers aren’t exactly cheery. It was quite creepy down there in the shadows. Miss Bianca increased the grip on Bernard’s arm while they walked. Perhaps a bit of conversation would keep their mind off the gloomy underground passages.

“What do you suppose that man does with the children?,”asked Miss Bianca.

“I only hope he doesn’t hurt them,”said Bernard, “Maybe he’ll call the City Hall after having more children captive and ask for a ransom. Hopefully, because there are only so many cruel things that crazy people can do to children that I’d rather not even think about it.”

Miss Bianca agreed.

“But what baffles me the most is this,”said Bernard, “How does he make the toys talk and walk about? There must be some trick to it.”

“It’s baffling indeed,”said Miss Bianca, “Poor children. It’s so inhuman to use the toys, the very toys that those poor dears love so much, to lure them into his trap. It’s the cruelest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Bernard nodded.

“Whoever he is, he’s no fool. We must be very careful…Oof! What the…,”Bernard suddenly stumbled into something and fell.

“Darling! Are you alright!?,”cried Miss Bianca.

“Yeah, I’m fine! I fell onto something soft. Kinda fuzzy too,”said Bernard, “I just hope it’s not a moldy, half-eaten sandwich.”

Shining light on the soft and fluffy object, the mice realized what it was. Bernard was glad to see that it wasn’t a fuzzy sandwich. It was something far much better!

“The little boy’s slipper!,”said Miss Bianca, “Oh, Bernard, you were right, darling! They definitely went this way!”

The mice followed the passage until they came to an intersection. There was a large passage in front of them, and two narrower passages at each side.

“Which way?,”said Bernard, “We have to decide quick…that poor boy could be in serious trouble…”

He suddenly stopped and twitched his ears.

“What is it, dear?,”asked Miss Bianca.

“W-what’s that sound?,”Bernard said.

Miss Bianca listened carefully too. There was a slight clicking sound, like heels against the floor.

“It sounds like…footsteps,”said Miss Bianca.

But there was something else. There was a ‘tick-tock’ sound along with the footsteps, like a clock of some sort.

The sound got louder as they listened.

“Oh, Bernard, it’s getting closer,”said Miss Bianca nervously.

“Whatever it is, it’s coming this way,”said Bernard switching his flashlight off, “Quick, let’s hide and see what it is.”

Bernard quickly took Miss Bianca’s paw and they hid behind a large pipe near the wall, waiting for whatever was making the sound to come.

And it came.

It was a doll. A big, clockwork doll. It was ticking and walking towards one of the narrower passages. The mice peeked from behind the pipe as the doll came into a patch of faint light from the storm drain overhead. Miss Bianca nearly yelped. It was the most horrifying doll they have ever seen. Its pallid, waxy face had no eyes. An eerie sight indeed it was, devoid of eyes, staring forward with its empty eye sockets like a ghost of some sort. Its mouth opened and closed creepily with every step, its arms were stiffly hanging at its sides, and the feet had little cast-iron shoes that clicked when they stepped on the concrete floor.

The doll walked heavily past the mice’s hiding place and continued blindly down the dark passage; it looked as if it were on guard, like a sentinel, watching the tunnels for something, even though its eye sockets were vacant.

“We’re on the right path!,”whispered Miss Bianca, “That…thing must lead us to the children.”

They cautiously walked out from behind their hiding place and quietly followed the doll down the passage.

Suddenly, from the storm drain overhead, a small object fell to the sewer floor, making a little tinkling sound. The doll stopped!

Bernard seized Miss Bianca’s paw and pulled her behind a pipe that protruded along the wall, shielding her from harm. Suddenly, the doll’s upper body turned around on its waist, so that the legs were facing forward but the chest and head were completely facing the opposite direction, staring at the spot the noise had come from with its horrible eyeless face. It had no eyes, but was far from blind! Bernard felt a chill along his spine as those eye sockets stared gloomily in their direction, but remained still, protecting Miss Bianca.

After what seemed like hours, the doll straightened its torso and walked again, satisfied that there was nobody near.

Miss Bianca and Bernard cautiously walked out from behind the pipe.

“It almost saw us,”whispered Bernard, “That was a close one.”

“It can see! Even with no eyes!,”whispered Miss Bianca, “Oh, Bernard, what kind of inhuman creature is that thing!?”

“I don’t know, but whatever it is, it definitely isn’t friendly,”said Bernard.
They walked over to the object that had been thrown down and saw that it was a cigarette lighter.

“Boy, the things people throw down here,”said Bernard, “Shameless.”

“Oh, there should be a stricter law against littering!,”said Miss Bianca indignantly, “It’s a nasty habit!”

They followed the doll in utmost silence for several minutes down the winding tunnels of the sewers; until after about ten minutes it turned into short dead end tunnel. The mice peered from behind the corner wall.

“It stopped,”whispered Miss Bianca who had both her paws on Bernard’s shoulders.

Then, something very spooky happened. The wall, which seemed solid, suddenly opened like a door, but only enough for the doll to walk heavily through.

“It’s now or never!,”said Bernard.

They dashed in after the doll, staying close to its heels. The wall behind them closed, sealing them inside a pitch dark room. Suddenly, blazing lights were switched on, temporarily blinding the mice, who were accustomed by now to the dim lighting of the sewers.

Once they got their sight back, they saw that the doll was standing completely still, and something at the far end of the room was moving.

There was a large cardboard box in the corner, close to the wall door. Bernard and Miss Bianca dashed towards the box and hid, peeking from behind it.

There was a large, dark figure walking towards the doll. But there was also something else. It looked like a dog…or a cat…of some kind of animal. Squinting because of the bright light, Miss Bianca and Bernard saw what it was.

A teddy bear! A large teddy bear with patches and stitches all over, as if it had been torn apart several times and sewn back together.

The large figure turned out to be the same one they had seen when the child was taken down the man hole. It was tall and gaunt, but they couldn’t see who it was because he was wearing a long black cloak that dragged along the floor and obscured his entire face. Only his gloved hands were visible. He wore black gloves that gave him an even more eerie aspect. And looking very closely, they could see a very faint shine in the man’s eyes, and this minuscule shine reflected and showed a very vague, ghostly and almost elusive outline of his face, but it was almost invisible.

The cloaked figure stood before the doll and put his gloved hands to his hips.

“REPORT!,”he barked.

The doll, who hadn’t up to now uttered a single word, started talking. But its voice came not from its mouth, but seemed to come from within its body. It was a deep, unearthly voice, like nothing the little mice had ever heard.

“All passages clear! Nobody following! The police are no wiser! Plans may continue as scheduled, sir!,”said the doll.

“Good, good,”said the gaunt figure, “You’ve served me well. I’ll use you again when I need to.”

With that, the figure extended a gloved hand out and touched the doll with his palm. All of a sudden, the doll fell in a heap to the floor, lifeless.

“It seems we’ve had a good catch today,”the gaunt figure said.

“Oh, goody! Boss, we’re really gonna make history, aren’t we?! Our plan is the greatest!,”said the teddy bear.

Our plan, Patches? Remember that I’m the mastermind behind this enterprise. I made you, and by golly I can destroy you if I please, and I’d certainly take much pleasure in doing so, if I didn’t need you to keep the place while I’m gone,”said the figure coldly.

The teddy bear named Patches cowered a bit.

“S-sure, boss! Whatever you say goes!,”said Patches, “I’m just a servant!”

“A slave. Don’t get confused,”said the figure, “Servants have dignity, and you, my friend, are devoid of even that. Just a puppet at my command.”

“Sure! A puppet! An instrument of your cause!,”said Patches.

“That’s better. Now, come along,”said the figure, “We have work to do.”

“Sure, Mr. Doll-maker, sir,”said Patches.

Bernard and Miss Bianca watched as the two walked off farther into the room. They followed cautiously, hiding behind the pipes that ran along the wall.

“Uh, Mr. Doll-maker, sir? I don’t quite understand that last bit, though,”said Patches, “What use are the children in this plot?”

“Well, that’s quite to be expected. You don’t understand because you’re an idiot,”said the Doll-maker, “But since I enjoy reviewing my devilish scheme, I shall explain it to you.”

The Doll-maker and Patches sat down at a small doll table with little toy chairs. It was made of the finest wood, polished mahogany, and was with no doubt made in a fine toy store.

Bernard and Miss Bianca were above them, watching from a pipe that ran across the ceiling.

“You see,”said the Doll-maker, “I make clockwork dolls that will work for me and obey my every command. They take any assignment without question. But they are clumsy, like you. They do not think creatively or analyze situations. They just follow orders. Plus they have to be winded up every month or so, which is in fact a great disadvantage. Therefore, I need to infuse them with something that will make them live, have a mind of their own, but remain loyal to me, like a true army. So, what do I do? Well, it’s very simple. What do living beings have that toys do not?”

“Er…life?,”asked Patches.

“Patches! You surprise me! You might actually be learning something!,”said the Doll-maker, “Yes, life! A mind, a conscience, a soul. Now, who have the raw material for that, and deliberately do not need it?”

“I know! Children!,”said the bear.

“Exactly! So what do I do?,”said the Doll-maker, “Using their toys to lure them, I bring the children to me, and ‘borrow’ what I need from them…permanently. I extract their souls and put them inside my own dolls, and voila! They’re alive! And since I can take their souls away from them just as easily as I give it to them, they live in constant fear, and do not disobey! Quite brilliant, don’t you agree?”

“Oh, splendid! The best plan ever concocted! But…er, just one more thing, boss,”said Patches, “After you take the souls out of the little brats, what do you do with all the bodies?”

The Doll-maker put his hands together on the table and rested his head on his fingers.

“Patches. Do you know what a candy is?,”asked the Doll-maker very kindly; too kindly to be real.

“Why, yes! They’re those little sugar balls that come in bright paper,”said Patches.

“That’s right! And what do you do with the paper when you’re finished eating the candy?,”asked the Doll-maker.

“Well…you throw it away,”said Patches.

“Precisely. And it’s the same with children,”said the Doll-maker, “When you’ve taken what’s useful from them, the rest must go to waste, mustn’t it? You know, the Hudson River is very murky indeed. Nobody would notice their bodies are there if they’re tied up in a bundle and thrown out of a sewage pipe in the middle of the night, especially with a heavy anchor tied to them, don’t you agree?”

Bernard and Miss Bianca gasped at the sheer wickedness of the plan.

“But Boss, wouldn’t that be risky? Just dumpin’ the kids into the river?,”asked Patches, “What if someone finds out?”

“Nobody will find out, Patches,”said the Doll-maker, “The Hudson is not the kind of water body to attract hundreds of snorkel parties or is it? No one will ever suspect anything.”

“But Boss, what if somehow…someone follows a clue…or something?,”asked Patches.

“That’s practically impossible,”said the Doll-maker calmly, “Police and detectives only think in their limited fashion of putting together the logical. They have no capacity of piecing together the illogical and this flaw shall be their doom. I’m quite sure that at this very moment the police are digging up their yellowed moth-eaten files on child abductors and psychotic kidnappers and will never come even close to suspecting the real truth behind it all. They will therefore never suspect that under their very feet a plot to destroy them is successfully progressing, and even if they eventually find the children, it will be of no use. The children will not utter a word nor give away any clue that will even remotely lead them to discovering my plans.”

The Doll-maker paused and chuckled coldly.

“After all,”said the Doll-maker, reaching out and grabbing a wooden doll that looked like Pinocchio, “A child with no soul cannot move, much less talk. It’s useless, as a puppet with no strings, don’t you think? Hehehehe! Hahahah!”

He squeezed the head and crushed it into smithereens, and flung the rest to a corner.

“Come! We’ve got to make preparations and select our next victim…er, guest!,”said the Doll-maker.

The two got up and walked out of the room through a green door at the far side of the room, still talking about the plot as they closed the door behind them.

All this time, Bernard and Miss Bianca were up on the pipe, listening in horror to the diabolical plan.

“We’ve got to stop this madness,”said Bernard, “We can’t let them get their hands on any more children…”

Suddenly, Miss Bianca gasped with fright.

“Bernard!,”cried Miss Bianca aghast, “Look!”

She pointed towards something below on the opposite side of the room. Bernard turned around and almost gasped himself.

Before them, in rows like soldiers, there were at least a three or four hundred dolls, all of them pale as wax, standing completely still; all of them eyeless, staring vacantly ahead. All of them…but one.

At the very front, there was a doll with huge blue glass eyes. It was the scariest pair of eyes that the poor mice had ever seen. Eerie blue like the eyes of those Nutcrackers that look like soldiers, and there was a faint glow in the very deepest recess of each eye, an uncanny glow of sheer evil. That doll seemed to be the commander, for it stood alone in front of the others.

“Oh my gosh!,”said Bernard, “It’s an entire army!”

“They’re going to put the souls of those poor children into each one of those dolls! There must be hundreds of them!,”said Miss Bianca, “Oh, that’s horrible! It’s…it’s heartless!”

“Well, they won’t. Not if we can help it,”said Bernard, “We’re in their hideout, so the children can’t be far.”

Bernard walked a little along the pipe and examined the room. There was the green door which the two villains had used, and there was another door, behind the army of dolls.

“Bernard, that door over there, behind the dolls,”said Miss Bianca, “Do you think the children might be there?”

“Well,”said Bernard, “If I wanted to guard something real well, I’d put it behind an entire army of sentinels.”

Bernard’s theory revealed something even scarier. The dolls were probably alive, and if the mice were seen, they’d probably be goners. It was indeed a horrible threat. This was definitely the most dangerous mission they’d been in. Up to now, all the dangers they had confronted had been natural ones: Alligators, cats, humans…all have been natural enemies to mice. But these enemies were unnatural and that made them even more dangerous and far more horrifying. Pale, murderous mechanical dolls with hollow faces. No minds, no feelings…just mannequins that followed orders from their creator. It was straight out of a nightmare.

“Oh, it’s too horrible even to think about it,”said Miss Bianca shivering, “If one of them is scary enough, a whole army is appalling. We have to get past them without being seen.”

“We have to distract them somehow,”said Bernard rubbing his chin, “Get them out of the way…”

Bernard suddenly had an idea. Miss Bianca saw his whiskers twitch, and knew he was up to something ingenious.

“Bianca, the plan I have is extremely dangerous,”said Bernard, “So we have to be very careful.”

Miss Bianca listened carefully.

“Now, I want you to stay up here and watch very closely what the dolls do,”said Bernard, “I’m going to go down there and get their attention, and I’ll try to lead them to the sewers so they’ll be out of the way.”

“But Bernard, you’ll risk too much,”said Miss Bianca holding his arm apprehensively, “We don’t know how that door to the sewer opens. If they catch you…oh, Bernard, you mustn’t.”

“That’s why I need you to watch the dolls very closely,”said Bernard, “I’ll run towards the door, but I’ll hide behind the cardboard box, and they’ll think I ran into the sewers and open the door and run out. If you can see what they press or turn to activate the door, we’ll be able to get the children out by the sewers with the dolls out of the way.”

It was risky, but Miss Bianca knew that they had very little time.

Brave little Bernard climbed down the pipe and ran towards the front of the dolls.

He jumped up and down and waved his arms.

“Hey, you silly dolls! Guess what?!,”yelled Bernard mockingly.

All at once, the hundreds of heads suddenly turned to fix their blank stares on Bernard. The commanding doll’s blue eyes gave Bernard the shivers, but his courage never buckled.

“I heard all your plan and I know everything! I know everything, and I’m going to tell the police right away!,”said Bernard, “I’m going to go to the police department and tell them everything I heard, and you’ll all end up in the joint! You’ll all go to jail and I’ll go visit you to laugh my head off in your dumb faces!”

The pair of sinister blue eyes followed Bernard’s movement.

“I’ll give the game away!,”yelled Bernard, “I’ll spill the beans! I swear! And you will never catch me before I get there!”

The doll with the eerie eyes suddenly moved!

“AFTER HIM!,”he yelled and all the three hundred or more dolls started marching towards Bernard.

Bernard ran and jumped about in the air.

“I’m gonna spill my guts! I’m gonna spill my guts!,”he called out.

The moment was desperate, but even so, Miss Bianca couldn’t help to giggle a bit at the funny act that Bernard was making.

Bernard dashed as fast as he could around the corner and towards the door, and quickly hid behind the cardboard box.

“He’s going to tell the police!,”said the leader, “We have to stop him!”

The leader reached for a valve that was on a pipe near the door. Miss Bianca watched as he turned the valve and the door opened.

“So that’s it!,”she said triumphantly, “That valve opens the door.”

“Come on, men! CHARGE!,”said the leader and all the dolls, every single one, ran out of the room and into the sewers, leaving the door wide open, pursuing the supposed enemy.

The police station was more then half the city away from where they were, so they’d take a long time to get there, and even longer to come back.

“Whew!,”Bernard breathed with relief, “It worked!”

Miss Bianca ran to his side.

“Oh, darling, you were wonderful! You are the bravest of the brave!,”said Miss Bianca hugging him and dancing about.

Suddenly, the green door on the other side of the room opened.

“What was all that racket?,”said the Doll-maker, “W-where is my army!?”

Bernard and Miss Bianca quickly hid behind the box again and waited to see what would happen.

“PATCHES! GET OVER HERE!,”yelled the Doll-maker.

“What is it, boss?,”said Patches, “What’s going…on…huh? Uh, boss, where are all the dolls?”

“Am I expected to know everything?!,”yelled the Doll-maker.

He saw the secret door wide open and looked suspiciously around.

“Hmmm. Something fishy is going on here,”said the Doll-maker, “Patches, you stay here and watch the place! I’ll go find my army and bring them back.”

With that, the Doll-maker went out, and Patches closed the secret door.

“Hmmm,”said Patches, “What in the world is going on here, anyway?”

He shrugged and sat down at the table, closing his eyes.

“Well, I guess he’ll take a while,”said Patches, “I don’t get it. Nobody could ever find us. I mean, it’s not like we’ve got a flashy lights sign saying ‘Secret Entrance’ or anything.”

Within a few seconds, he was snoring.

This was their chance! Quickly, the mice crept out from their hiding place and tiptoed past the table where Patches was sound asleep.

“Some watchman,”commented Bernard as he and Miss Bianca crept past him and towards the door the army had been guarding.

They crept under the door and looked around the room. The sight that met their eyes made them both gasp.

There, like logs piled against the wall, there were several children. Among them was Jackie, the child from the orphanage. Most were wearing pajamas or nightgowns and they all seemed to be asleep.

“Holy mackerel!,”said Bernard, “It’s them!”

“The children!,”said Miss Bianca, “We’ve got to get them out of here.”

She walked towards them and shook the head of the nearest one, a little girl.

“Wake up,”said Miss Bianca gently, “Wake up, little girl. We’ve come to save you.”

Bernard just stood there for a moment, thinking. All those children couldn’t be asleep like that. Something was not right.

None of them woke up, no matter how hard Miss Bianca tried to wake them.

“Oh, darling, they’re not waking up,”said Miss Bianca; then a horrible thought crossed her mind, “Do you think…They can’t be…no…Can they?”

She looked at Bernard with a frightened look.

Bernard got closer and put his ear to one of the children’s chest.

“No, they’re alive,”said Bernard, “The heart is still beating.”

Bernard checked the rest. They were all alive. Miss Bianca sighed in relief.

“But then, why don’t they wake up,”asked Miss Bianca.

Bernard looked at her and hesitated. Then he gathered the words.

“They’re alive, but it’s as if they weren’t,”said Bernard, “These poor children have no souls.”

They exchanged a very anxious look.

“The Doll-maker must have taken their souls already and plans to put them into his dolls,”said Bernard, “But his dolls don’t have the souls yet, so where is he keeping them?”

The dolls were evidently just dolls. They didn’t think at all when they barged off into the sewers chasing a non-existent enemy. They had no idea about nothing; just followed orders.

“This just gets more and more twisted by the minute,”said Miss Bianca.

“I’m afraid we haven’t yet unraveled all the evil at work in here,”said Bernard, “This is far more serious than anyone would expect.”

Clearly they weren’t dealing with ordinary kidnappers here. This person was twisted, the Doll-maker. He was far more cunning and dangerous than ordinary criminals, and had evidently been plotting elaborately for a long time.

It was indeed overwhelming for two little mice.

Miss Bianca felt weighed down by the whole thing. She wasn’t one to despair easily, so it was clear how overpowering this assignment truly was. She leaned herself against Bernard and rested her cheek on his shoulder and her paws on his strong chest. Bernard hugged her closely in a comforting way, soothing at least a little of her anxiety.

“Oh, Bernard,”Miss Bianca breathed, “How on Earth are we going to save these poor children?”

Bernard also felt a bit lost. It was quite a predicament.

“I don’t know, Bianca. I don’t know,”said Bernard very anxiously, “But don’t worry, we’ll work something out. I promise.”

Miss Bianca felt greatly comforted. Bernard was a mouse of word. If he said something would be so, then that’s the way it would be.

Suddenly, a small whimpering sound was heard in the gloom.

“What was that?!,”Bernard yelped. He took Miss Bianca’s paw and pulled her behind a pipe, hiding from whatever creature was lurking in the shadows.

Footsteps were heard coming towards them. They barely dared to peek, for they were afraid it might be another devilish doll.

The figure walked into the dim light that came from a feeble light bulb overhead.

It wasn’t a doll. Nor was it any toy at all.

It was a little girl! A small girl, maybe seven or eight years old. She had a raggedy, torn dress on and an apron that had mold stains all over it. She was clearly one of the first to be kidnapped.

“Hello?,”she said, “Is there anyone here? I heard voices and I thought you might be around there.”

Bernard and Miss Bianca slowly walked towards the light. The little girl saw them, so cute and real in their rain clothes.

“You…you’re not toys!,”said the girl.

“Uh, no. We’re, we’re real,”said Bernard gently.

“We’re a couple of mice,”said Miss Bianca, “We came here to help you.”

The little girl’s face suddenly changed. She smiled!

“Oh, goodness! It’s true!,”she said and she scooped them up in her little hands, “You are real! Two real little mice! Oh, I swear, if I saw one more toy…”

After dancing around for a while, she stood still and looked at Bernard and Miss Bianca.

“My name’s Grace. Are you really here to help us? But who sent you?,”asked the girl.

“We got your message,”said Bernard.

“The one that you sent in the water pipe,”said Miss Bianca.

“Oh, I knew someone would find it!,”said Grace, putting them back on the floor and kneeling to see them better, “But…um, I was thinking maybe the police would.”

“Uh…well, the police did see it, but they threw it away,”said Bernard, “They said it wasn’t enough evidence. So we came instead.”

“We may be small, but we can still help you,”said Miss Bianca.

“But what are you going to do? Are you going to kill that wicked Doll-maker?,”asked Grace.

“Er…I hope we don’t have to,”said Bernard, “Killing people really isn’t a very nice thing to do.”

“Oh, but you have to! He’s so mean! Look what he did to my friends!,”said Grace and she pointed at the other children.

“What did he do to them, Grace?,”asked Miss Bianca.

“All he did was touch them, and something white and shiny came out of their chests, like a light, and he put it in a big weird bottle and they just fell down to the floor,”said Grace, “They breathe and all, but they don’t do anything else.”

That explained why the dolls didn’t have the souls yet. The Doll-maker was storing them elsewhere, probably waiting until he had enough to bring his army to life.

“But, why didn’t he do the same to you?,”asked Bernard.

“Because I work for him,”said Grace, “He forces me to sit down and put the dolls together all day, and then he just throws me back in this dirty room. He says that when I’m finished making two thousand dolls he’ll put my head on the last one! I’m so scared of him.”

This was heartbreaking to hear. The Doll-maker was so spiteful. It was so cruel.

“The Doll-maker wanted an army of dolls!,”said Miss Bianca, “That’s what he’s doing! Grace, he’s making you build the dolls so that he can make an army.”

“Yeah, and while he keeps you busy making them, he probably concentrates on kidnapping more children to take their souls,”reasoned Bernard.

“But…what can we do to stop him?,”asked Grace.

Bernard suddenly thought about the doll army.

“Grace, how many dolls did you make up to now?,”asked Bernard.

“Oh, two hundred and seventy,”said Grace.

“Hmmm, not as many as they seemed,”said Bernard, “But still too many for us.”

“Oh, how will we save these children, they can’t even run, the poor dears,”said Miss Bianca.

“Well, we have to find a way, or there will be two thousand poor kids without souls at the bottom of the Hudson,”said Bernard, “We have to act fast. Grace, where does he take you when you make the dolls?”

“To the factory,”said Grace, “It’s behind the green door and down a long hallway, and up a staircase that leads straight up into it.”

“Factory?,”asked Miss Bianca.

“It used to be a toy factory,”said Grace, “But one day there was a big fire. All the people were safe, because they ran outside before the building tumbled. But all the toys got buried under the building and many of them got burnt up. That’s why the Doll-maker is so mad, because the people didn’t save the toys. He wants to make an army and go up to the city to get rid of all the people and make a world of toys.”

“He’s insane!,”said Miss Bianca.

“Nutty as a fruitcake,”agreed Bernard.

“I go there every day and sit down and make toys until he says it’s enough and then I come back here,”said Grace.

“Didn’t you ever try to escape and call for help?,”asked Miss Bianca kindly.

“No. I can’t. I’m always being watched by Patches, that ugly old bear. I hate him! He’s so stupid!,”said Grace.

“Hmm, the old toy factory,”mussed Bernard, “Hold on, I think remember something. Before I worked as a janitor...”

He stopped for a moment. Miss Bianca and Grace looked at him.

“Let’s see, it was 1958, two years ago. I heard the news as I was having supper with my family,”said Bernard, pacing back and forth, “We lived in the same neighborhood. Now I remember! My sister-in-law gave my mother her first radio ever and we were listening to it as we had supper. There was a big fire at the toy factory and the neighbors were all trying to help the workers to safety.”

“So, you know the neighborhood, Bernard!,”said Miss Bianca excitedly, “And you can think of a way to get the children out by the factory!”

“It’s our best chance,”said Bernard, “We only have to find a way to get them past the Doll-maker and Patches, and all those foul dolls.”

Bernard looked up at Grace and smiled.

“We have to go to the factory with you, Grace,”said Bernard, “If things go right, we can get the children out of here without anyone noticing. If we work together, we’ll outsmart those two devils.”

Grace smiled and picked Bernard up in her hand and rubbed his head with the other. Her hands were full of little cuts and scratches, and Bernard had no doubt that they were from the sharp pieces of the clockwork mechanisms that she had to assemble all day.

“Thank you,”Grace said as she rubbed behind his ears, “For helping us.”

“It’s our pleasure,”said Bernard.

“That’s what the Rescue Aid Society is all about,”said Miss Bianca proudly.

“Rescue Aid Society? What’s that?,”asked Grace.

But they didn’t have time to answer. The door to the room started to creak open. Grace grabbed Miss Bianca and put her in her apron pocket along with Bernard.

The door opened completely and the devilish Doll-maker appeared with Patches at his side. The doll army was back, positioned in files along the walls at either side of the room, leaving a walking space in the middle.

“You are the most idiotic bear in the world!,”snarled the Doll-maker, “I ask you to do one simple task. One simple little job, and you can’t even do that?! Falling asleep on duty will cost you an extra hour of watching the brat work, you hear me? And be grateful I’m not punishing you by grabbing the scissors and turning you into teddy bear confetti again!”

Patches just cowered and nodded. The Doll-maker turned to Grace.

“YOU! GET TO WORK! NOW!,”said the Doll-maker.

Grace nodded and ran off. She couldn’t help smiling, though, knowing that there was a chance that the Doll-maker’s wicked plans could be foiled.

Unfortunately, the Doll-maker noticed the smile.

“STOP!,”he said, “COME BACK HERE, GIRL!”

Grace wished she hadn’t drawn attention to herself, but obeyed. The Doll-maker glared at her with his cold glassy eyes, barely visible under his black hood.

“Why so happy, little brat?,”asked the Doll-maker in a would-be soft tone, “I haven’t seen you smile in almost a fortnight.”

Grace opened her mouth but her breath failed her. She couldn’t speak whenever she looked at the Doll-maker in the eyes. There was something frightening about his stare that made her throat go dry and her skin prickle.

“ANSWER ME!,”yelled the Doll-maker.

“Well…I…I just had a nice dream!,”the girl managed to say.

“A dream? Well, tell me. What was it all about?,”asked the Doll-maker.

“W-well, I dreamed that two little mice…came to rescue me and my friends,”said Grace, “That’s all.”

The Doll-maker continued to stare at her, and Grace felt as if his eyes were burning right through her head.

“Hmmm, mice. Two teeny little mice, coming to save the poor girl and her little friends,”said the Doll-maker mockingly, “Is that what you call a good dream?”

“Y-yes, s-sir,”stammered Grace.

“Well, it’s a stupidity! Let me tell you what a good dream is,”said the Doll-maker, “A good dream would be dreaming you with strings on your arms and legs, and one very tight one around your neck, and me pulling them and choking you slowly until you faint. That is a nice dream, girl. Now, go! Off to work with you before I get mad, grab your filthy little hands and dip them in vinegar until they’re pickled!”

Grace gasped and walked a few paces back. Her hands, full of cuts, would sting most dreadfully in vinegar. It was horrible, but she didn’t put it past the Doll-maker to do so out of spite.

“OFF TO WORK! NOW!,”roared the Doll-maker.

“Y-yes, sir!,”said Grace and ran off to the green door and disappeared into the dark corridor behind it.

“Patches!,”said the Doll-maker.

“Y-Yes, boss?,”Patches said.

“Keep an eye on that little girl,”said the Doll-maker, “I have a slight suspicion that she’s up to something.”

“Really? Why?,”asked Patches.

“I don’t like the way she looked at me,”said the Doll-maker, “She didn’t flinch like she usually does. As if she had…hope.”

Patches nodded.

“Mice,”said the Doll-maker.

“Huh? Mice?,”asked Patches, “What about ‘em, Boss?”

The Doll-maker crossed his arms.

“You know, there are…rumors. An urban legend, perhaps. People saying things about mice that help people in trouble,”said the Doll-maker, “It’s ridiculous, really. But I think I remember something like that when I overheard two sewer rats talking the other night.”

The Doll-maker turned around.

“My army suddenly disappeared, leaving the door open,”he said, “Chasing after someone that said to have heard our plan. Then that little brat smiles, and says something about a dream with little mice in it.”

He turned again to Patches.

“Mice. Hmm,”said the Doll-maker, “It couldn’t be true…but then again, it could.”

He shrugged and walked off to the door that led to the sewers.

“Keep an eye on her, Patches,”said the Doll-maker, “And don’t you ever let me catch you sleeping on duty again! You hear?”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Doll-maker, sir!,”said the bear.

With that, the Doll-maker walked out of the room and into the sewers, closing the secret door behind him.

                                               *          *          *

The factory could hardly be called a factory. It was a tumbled building with creaky stairs and grimy windows. There was a large basket with doll heads, another with doll bodies and several with arms and legs at the foot of a burnt staircase. A workbench bench and a small stool sat nearby, and that was where Grace sat all day assembling dolls for the Doll-maker to turn into slaves.

Once she was sure that nobody was near, Grace put her hand in her pocket and took Miss Bianca and Bernard out.

“Okay,”she said, “Here we are.”

“Wow. Talk about needing a spring cleaning,”said Bernard.

Miss Bianca took his arm and they walked around, inspecting the place. Bernard took his flashlight out and shone light into the corners.

It was the gloomiest place they remembered being in, even worse than Devil’s Bayou. At least that forsaken swamp had life in it, but here not even a spider or ant crawled. It was a place heavy with death. Death of dreams, death of joy…disturbing indeed.

“Look! There’s a window over there! And I can see some light!,”said Miss Bianca, “Let’s go see.”

The mice crawled up the porous wall and stood on the sill of a large window, big enough for a person to fit through. Most of the glass was gone, and outside there was a large pile of garbage directly underneath it, mostly paper and battered mattresses. Miss Bianca pointed out that anyone who jumped out would have a safe landing.

“Hmmm,”said Bernard, “Great idea!”

A bit farther, in the corner of the factory, there were some large plastic doll pieces. They were for those life-size dolls that people often use to build the Nativity scene in front of churches.

“Say,”said Bernard, “Those doll pieces…they’re big enough for…hmm.”

Miss Bianca looked at him and saw his whiskers twitch. Bernard was thinking carefully, raking his brains for a plan.

“What is it, darling?,”asked Miss Bianca.

“I think I’ve got an idea,”said Bernard, “Those doll pieces will help us get the children out of here.”

Grace had already started working in assembling dolls. Each doll she finished was placed in a cart beside her. Bernard helped Miss Bianca climb back down the windowsill and they went back to where the girl was sitting.

“Grace,”said Bernard, “Where does the Doll-maker go when he leaves?”

“I don’t know,”said Grace, “He probably goes around and looks for the other children he wants to kidnap. He disappears for hours and doesn’t come back until very late at night.”

“That gives us plenty of time,”said Miss Bianca.

“Why? What’s your plan?,”asked Grace, “Will you be able to save my friends?”

“I believe we will, by using those big doll pieces over there,”said Bernard, “Grace, does the Doll-maker ever use those?”

“No, they’re just rejects, I guess,”said Grace, “He doesn’t want any dolls that are big. Only these medium sized ones. Why?”

“Well, this is what we’ll do,”said Bernard, “We’ll take those doll pieces back to your room, and then we’ll cut them along the sides with this penknife.”

Bernard took his penknife out of his pocket.

“What good will that do?,”asked Grace.

“We’ll put the doll’s faces on the kids that are in your room, like masks,”said Bernard, “And the legs, and arms. We’ll disguise them as dolls. That way, we can bring them back up here and let them drop out of that window, where they’ll land safely outside, and no one will be any wiser.”

The idea was great! Miss Bianca and Grace looked delighted!

“After that, we’ll have to look for that jar that you said the Doll-maker keeps the souls inside,”said Bernard, “With a bit of luck, we’ll be able to rescue all the kids and get the police to stop those two villains.”

“That’s great! Boy, you’re one clever little mouse!,”said Grace.

“Oh, Bernard! You’re wonderful!,”said Miss Bianca dancing around with glee, “It’s a brilliant plan!”

Suddenly, they heard someone coming. It was Patches, complaining as usual.

“Quick! Hide!,”said Grace and she scooped them up into her apron pocket.

“Patches do this, Patches do that!,”muttered the bear, “I’m always the one who does the grunt work around here!”

He entered the room and sat down on a burnt chair nearby.

“You working over there?!,”he yelled at Grace.

“Yes!,”said Grace.

“Well, work harder, or there’ll be no supper for you!,”he growled and propped his feet up on another burnt chair.

Grace watched the bear from the corner of her eyes. He seemed drowsy. Hopefully, in a few moments he’d go to sleep.

She worked in silence, careful not to make any sound that would wake him up if he was dozing.

After a few minutes, there were loud snores echoing throughout the derelict factory.

Grace carefully took Miss Bianca and Bernard out. Bernard saw the bear asleep and knew that they had to get to work.

“Alright,”said Bernard, “Grace, you empty the cart and put all the dolls aside. We’ll bring the pieces of the big dolls.

Bernard and Miss Bianca ran towards the basket where the big doll parts were. One by one, they carried the hollow pieces to the cart where Grace put them in.

Soon there were enough pieces to disguise the eight children. They had taken an extra set of pieces in case the Doll-maker kidnapped another child.

“Okay, now what?,”asked Grace.

“We take these back to your room,”said Bernard, “But we have to cover them somehow, to make them less conspicuous. Hmmm, how can we do that?”

“Bernard, how about using the small dolls to cover the big pieces?,”said Miss Bianca, “We can pile them on top of the pieces and no one will notice!”

“That’s it! That’ll work!,”said Bernard, “Great thinking, Bianca.”

Quietly, they placed all the assembled dolls in the cart on top of the big pieces, and all was set.

Bernard and Miss Bianca returned to Grace’s pocket.

Slowly, Grace pushed the cart down towards the stairs and to the hall below. She was a bit nervous because she had to pass right in front of Patches, but he didn’t even stir. He was fast asleep.

Down the corridor they went, through the green door. They half expected to see the Doll-maker lurking in the room behind. But he was nowhere to be seen.

The sentinel dolls were at their posts, but they offered no resistance, for they saw nothing suspicious.

Once inside her room, Grace closed the door and locked it with a chair that was in the corner.

“We made it!,”said Grace, taking Bernard and Miss Bianca out of her pocket, “Now what?”

“Now we’ve got to get busy disguising the kids,”said Bernard, “I’ll get to work on the doll pieces, while you get them into the cart. We must take as many as we can at a time.”

Four children would fit in the cart, so they’d have to make two trips.

Miss Bianca helped Grace get all the dolls out of the cart and they placed them in a corner. Meanwhile, Bernard took his penknife and started splitting the big doll heads in two sections. He did the same with the arms and legs. Soon, the doll pieces were all set to be used as disguises.

Grace had placed four of her friends in the cart, with a bit of difficulty. Bernard and Miss Bianca then took the doll pieces and placed them on the children’s faces, like masks, and the arms and legs. Soon, there seemed to be four large dolls lying in the cart.

“There,”said Bernard, “That should do.”

“We must take them up as quickly as possible,”said Miss Bianca, “That vicious Doll-maker could be back any minute.”

“Okay, hop in,”said Grace taking the handles.

After making sure the coast was clear, Grace pushed the cart past the sentry dolls and down the corridor towards the factory.

Patches was still asleep when they got there. He snored so loudly that Grace was afraid he’d wake himself up with his snores.

“Okay,”said Bernard from the pocket, “We’ve gotten this far.”

“Now you must lift them and let them fall out that window,”said Miss Bianca, “You must do that part, Grace.”

Still, Grace thought that letting the kids just fall out the window could be dangerous, even if they did have a safe landing.

“Isn’t there any other way?,”she asked.

“I’m afraid not,”said Bernard, “That’s as best as we can do.”

“Don’t worry, they’ll be fine,”said Miss Bianca, “Now hurry, before someone notices.”

It wasn’t such a big fall, maybe less than ten feet. Grace lifted the first child, a little girl smaller than herself, and gently as possible let her fall down onto the soft junk below.

The little girl’s body landed beautifully on the mattresses and old papers.

“Well, that didn’t seem so bad,”said Grace.

She did the same with the other kids. While she did this, Bernard and Miss Bianca watched Patches to make sure he didn’t wake up.

Everything went as planned. Four of the eight children were safely outside.

“Great,”said Miss Bianca, “Now we must save the other four children.”

She and Bernard hopped back into Grace’s pocket and went to rescue the other four kids.

The way to Grace’s room was easy, for there was nobody to stop them. The sentinel dolls didn’t budge.

When they were safely inside the room, they got to work immediately on the rest of the children’s escape. Miss Bianca helped Bernard get the disguises ready as Grace loaded the kids into the cart.

“Boy, I’ll be having nightmares about eyeless killer dolls for a month,”chuckled Bernard.

Miss Bianca giggled musically. Grace laughed a bit too. A bit of humor was in fact rather welcome, given their situation. It helped them renew their hopes.

But at the last moment, they realized something scary.

“There’s another one!,”said Grace.

There was one more child in the room. It was a small girl, no older than four. The Doll-maker had obviously been hunting her down and brought her into the room, already extracting her soul.

“If the Doll-maker was here and he switched on the light, there’s a good chance he knows that there’s something going on,”said Bernard, “Quick, we must hurry.”

The last child wouldn’t fit in the cart. They’d have to come back for her later.

Cautiously, the mice checked if there was anyone near. The Doll-maker was nowhere to be seen. Grace wheeled the cart to the factory and found that Patches was still asleep. She carefully went to the window and lifted the children up and out of it. They all landed nicely.

Now for the scariest part. They had to make one more trip down to the room to get the last child. Then they had to look for the strange glass jar in which Grace had said the Doll-maker kept the souls.

She tiptoed past Patches and hurried down the corridor to save the last child.

All the time, Bernard and Miss Bianca had the most dreadful feeling that they were being watched. It was something like that feeling that Bernard felt when the eyeless doll in the sewers stared in their direction.

The mind plays tricks on the eyes in these situations, and here and there they sometimes thought they saw a pair of eyes appearing and disappearing in the dark recesses and corners.

They got to the room, closed the door and hurriedly got to work.

“That jar you told us about,”said Bernard, “Do you have any idea where it is?”

“No, I never saw where he keeps it,”said Grace.

That gave them a big disadvantage, but at least the children were safe. That was one small victory.

“We’ve got to do this as fast as we can,”said Miss Bianca, “The Doll-maker was here already.”

The little girl was disguised nicely. Grace wheeled the cart towards the door.

“Well, at least he’s nowhere around,”said Grace as she opened the door.

“Wanna bet?,”said a cold voice before her.

Grace froze in her tracks. The door swung open and there he stood. The Doll-maker in his dark cloak and gloved hands.

“Well, well, well, now what have we here?,”he said bending over and looking at the little girl in the cart, “Quite an unusual doll we have here, don’t you agree?”

“I…I…made it…in my room,”said Grace paralyzed.

“Really?,”said the Doll-maker in his dangerous gentle voice, “Well, I don’t hear it ticking. Perhaps it’s defective, or perhaps you didn’t place the pieces properly.”

He put one gloved hand on the little girl’s mask and lifted it. Grace felt her blood turn to ice.

“Hmmm,”said the Doll-maker, “Well, that explains why it wasn’t ticking.”

He looked at Grace with cold eyes behind that shadowy cloak.

“Do you have any idea of what you’ve gotten yourself into?,”the Doll-maker asked dangerously.

Grace couldn’t utter a word. The Doll-maker’s fierce glare froze her at the spot.

“You know, I believe it’s time I took over the industry,”said the Doll-maker, “And to begin my grand production, I think I’ll make two little hand-puppets. Two little filthy, hairy, long-toothed hand-puppets. One brown and one white.”

Bernard and Miss Bianca gasped. He had somehow discovered that they were helping.

“Turn up your pockets!,”said the Doll-maker to Grace.

Grace clutched her pocket defensively.

“NO!,”she said.

“AHA! So it is true!,”said the Doll-maker.

Grace had given herself away!

“You do have two little helpers in your apron pocket, then,”Doll-maker said triumphantly.

The girl took a few paces back.

“How…who…,”Grace stammered.

“Hehehe, gossip goes a long way down here in the sewers,”said the Doll-maker, “Well, you choose. How would you like them best? As hand-puppets or as mincemeat in your dinner plate? Heheheh!”

Grace suddenly realized that she had a weapon with her. The cart! It was made of metal and the Doll-maker was directly in front of it.

“Would you like them boiled or baked?,”asked the Doll-maker cruelly, “I doubt it’ll make any difference to them, for either way they’ll be alive when they’re cooked.”

Summoning all her might, Grace pushed the cart and knocked the Doll-maker to the ground.

“Oof! What the…,”the Doll-maker coughed.

There was never a more desperate situation. Grace pushed the cart to the green door, but only at the last moment she realized that it was being guarded. Patches was in front of the door, holding a ring of keys in his paw. The door was locked.

“Going somewhere?,”said the bear.

Grace turned around and saw that the Doll-maker was getting up. She was trapped.

“Grace! THE SEWERS!,”said Bernard from her pocket.

“THE VALVE IN THE CORNER!,”said Miss Bianca, “IT OPENS THE DOOR!”

Grace understood. The valve in the corner was their escape route to the sewers. Thank goodness the mice had discovered this!

She ran all the way to the corner with the cart. She wouldn’t be able to run along the sewers with the cart, so she took the little girl in her arms and tried to turn the valve.

“Trapped,”said a voice behind her, “Trapped like a rat with two little rats in your pocket. Now this we don’t see every day.”

The Doll-maker was standing in front of his clockwork troops. Patches was walking towards Grace, apparently with no hurry.

“Naughty, naughty,”he said mockingly.

Grace tried to turn the valve as hard as she could, but it wouldn’t budge.

“Why don’t you leave that and come here, girl?,”said the Doll-maker, “Maybe I’ll be merciful and just rip the hair off your scalp and put it on my dolls.”

Bernard and Miss Bianca jumped out of her pocket and ran along her arms. They grabbed the valve and tried to turn it too with all their might. Just a bit more strength would do the trick.

It worked!

The valve turned, the door opened and before anyone knew it, Grace was running down the sewers with Bernard and Miss Bianca in her pockets and the little girl in her arms.

“STOP! MY MINIONS, CATCH THEM! BRING THEM BACK!!,”yelled the Doll-maker, “DON’T LET THEM ESCAPE!”

All his army, the two hundred and seventy dolls, ran after them into the sewers.

“Patches! Don’t just stand there, you big lump! After them!,”yelled the Doll-maker, and the bear ran off to the chase.

The situation wasn’t looking at all favorable. How would they get out of this one?

                                               *          *          *

Grace was beginning to get breathless. She came to the intersection where the mice had seen the first eyeless doll.

“LEFT!,”cried Bernard.

Grace half-ran down the left tunnel. She was growing very exhausted.

“I…I can’t…I can’t go on!,”she said.

“YOU MUST!,”cried Miss Bianca, “THEY’LL KILL US IF WE STOP!”

“THEY’RE COMING AFTER US!,”Bernard yelled, “CAN YOU HEAR THEM?!”

Indeed it was a scary sound. It sounded like a thousand clocks, all the deadly dolls ticking as they ran towards them.

“WE’VE GOT TO ESCAPE AND WARN THE POLICE!,”cried Bernard, “YOU MUST KEEP RUNNING!”

“I…I can’t…I’m…too tired,”panted Grace.

“YOU MUST GO ON!,”Miss Bianca cried and did something she had never done before and resented very much doing it. She bared her small white teeth, ripped through the apron and raggedy dress and gave Grace a sharp nip!

“OUCH!,”yelped Grace.

Miss Bianca bit the girl so hard and deep she could feel the bone underneath.

“If they kill us, the children will never be found and nobody will stop the Doll-maker!,”yelled Miss Bianca, “So get running! NOW!”

Grace summoned her strength and started running once more.

After a lot of running, they got to the room with the eight passages that Bernard and Miss Bianca had entered earlier.

“That way!,”said Bernard.

Grace ran down the tunnel, but stopped dead.

At the far side of the dark passage, there were several tiny shiny things in the gloom. They looked like dozens of eyes, all fixed on Grace.

Behind her, the dolls had caught up and were almost on them.

Suddenly, the eyes all ran towards the heroes. Grace closed her own eyes, bracing herself.

But nothing happened. She suddenly felt something brushing against her leg, like a furry thing.

Bernard and Miss Bianca looked out from the pocket and the sight that met their astonished eyes almost gave them a heart attack.

Cats! Dozens of cats! Alley cats, pussy cats, tabby cats…there must have been at least twenty or thirty cats altogether.

All those cats rushed past them and were attacking the dolls! They were disassembling the dolls and tearing them apart with their claws.

“Where’d they come from?!,”Grace asked, “Are they friends of yours?”

Bernard and Miss Bianca looked at her. Grace realized how stupid her question was. A pair of mice, friends of a big bunch of scruffy alley cats?

The cats were sure turning the tables. Even Patches was having a rough time.

“Unhand me, you beasts! Let go! Ow! No claws!,”he yelled as three cats were clawing him.

A big gray cat bit his head and started pulling it hard.

“Ooooow! Ow ow ow! My head!,”shrieked Patches, “Careful! You’ll rip it off!”

Said and done. The cat ripped the head off and threw into the water that ran at the bottom of the sewer canal.

“This is definitely not my day,”whined Patches’ head as it floated away down the tunnel into the darkness.

In the middle of the confusion, a very familiar old cat wearing spectacles ran up to Grace and tugged at her apron.

“This way, darlin’. We can escape up the manhole down that next tunnel,”said the elderly cat.

It was Rufus!

Bernard and Miss Bianca popped their heads out of the pocket.

“Mr. Rufus!!,”they said.

“There you are!,”said Rufus, “I saw you two go down into the sewers chasing little Jackie, so I rounded up some friends of mine and told them the whole thing. We came to help you out.”

“And you came just in time!,”said Miss Bianca, “Thank you, Mr. Rufus!”

“Now, we gotta get out of this place fast and get the police,”said Rufus, “Follow me.”

They ran down the tunnel behind Rufus, leaving the cats to battle the dolls.

“Did you find the guy who was kidnappin’ all them kids?,”asked Rufus as they ran.

“Yeah, and he’s one scary guy,”said Bernard.

Just as they were turning the corner to head towards the tunnel with the manhole that would take them to safety, they heard a very angry voice.

“Out of my way, you fetorsome felines!,”yelled and angry voice.

It was the Doll-maker. He kicked the cats out of his way and ran after the heroes.

“I’ll catch you, you little brat!,”roared the Doll-maker furiously, “I’ll drown you and your meddlesome rodents in this stinking sewer! I SWEAR IT!”

At last, they got to the manhole that was in front of the orphanage. Rufus climbed up the steps and removed the cover, standing at the entrance of the manhole and looking down. The teddy bear that belonged to Jackie was still there in the middle of the street.

“Come on up! Quick!,”said Rufus.

Grace tucked the little girl tightly under her arm and tried to climb up the ladder. But about halfway, she felt something grab her ankles.

“I’ve got you now, you little brat!,”said a cold voice beneath her.

It was the Doll-maker!

“LET GO!,”yelled Grace and tried to shake him off. In doing this, she almost dropped the little child.

Rufus saw what happened and quickly stretched himself down and grabbed the four-year old girl’s gown collar with his teeth and tried to pull her up. Grace pushed the little girl from beneath and Rufus was able to lift her up onto the street above.

But the Doll-maker was pulling Grace down. His grip was strong.

“HELP! HELP!,”yelled Grace.

“Oh, don’t get scared. I’m not going to hurt you,”said the Doll-maker, “I’m just going to plunge your head into that sewer water until your lungs are full of it, that’s all.”

Grace tried to wrench free, but it was no use.

“HELP! HEEEEELP!,”she cried out, near to tears.

“No one will help you now, girl,”said the Doll-maker cruelly, “You are mine!”

Suddenly, Bernard jumped out of the pocket and onto the Doll-maker’s arm.

“Don’t bet on it, pal,”he said and sunk his teeth into the Doll-maker’s gloved hand.

“Oooww!,”the Doll-maker screamed in pain. His grip on Grace’s ankle loosened, but his other hand was still gripping her other ankle.

But not for long. Miss Bianca jumped onto the other arm, inspired by Bernard’s fiery courage, and sunk her teeth into the Doll-maker’s left hand.

“Yoww! You little rats!,”yelled the Doll-maker.

His grip was loose and Grace was able to break free and climb up the ladder. But she stopped at the top and looked down at Bernard and Miss Bianca, still battling the Doll-maker.

“RUN!,”yelled Bernard, “GRACE, RUN!”

Grace understood. She climbed up the last rung and joined Rufus and the little girl. She looked back down and called to her friends.

“I’ll call the police!,”she said and ran off.

Bernard and Miss Bianca took a chance and ran up the ladder together, trying to escape the Doll-maker.

“Oh, no you don’t!,”said the Doll-maker and raised his hands.

The mice were on the last rung. They could feel the cool air of the surface and hurried to get out onto the street.

But in that moment, the cover of the manhole shut their escape route.

“What the…,”Bernard gasped.

“Yahahahaah! Now you’re in trouble,”said a little voice outside through the holes of the manhole cover.

It was Buddy, the teddy bear that belonged to Jackie. The Doll-maker had controlled him to close the manhole.

Rufus was heard struggling to get the bear off the manhole cover, yelling and clawing fiercely.

The Doll-maker shook the ladder to make the mice fall. Bernard held Miss Bianca tightly as they lost their footing and fell to the sewer floor below. Bernard broke Miss Bianca’s fall. She had a safe landing, but he fell on his back.

Bernard was stunned for a few seconds.

“Bernard! Oh, Bernard, get up! Please, get up!,”Miss Bianca panted desperately as she tried to get Bernard to stand.

The Doll-maker looked down at the little mice, so small and with nobody to help them. He chuckled cruelly.

Bernard recovered and bolted up. He held Miss Bianca tightly in his arms and shielded her from the wicked Doll-maker.

The Doll-maker just stood there a while longer and then spoke.

“Well, I admit it. I did underestimate you two,”said the Doll-maker, “After all, who would imagine that two pitiful little mice could cause so much trouble? You outsmarted my troops, you defeated my henchman, and you even got past me. You may have won this battle, but the war is not over yet. Now, you’ll feel the true terror. Pay close attention to this, for it will be the last thing you’ll see in your miserable lives.”

The Doll-maker calmly extended his right hand and with the other hand started to remove his glove.

When he took his glove off, he tossed it behind him, extended his hand and flexed his long fingers. Miss Bianca yelped. Bernard gasped.

His fingers, instead of joints, had hinges! His wrist was also a hinge. He removed his other glove and his other hand also had hinges instead of joints.

Slowly, he took his hands to his cloak and removed the hood.

Both Miss Bianca and Bernard yelped.

His face was the most appalling sight they’d ever seen. His eyes were made of glass, brilliant blue glass. His nose had no nostrils. His hair was not real; it wasn’t even hair, for it was just molded onto his head like a texture. His mouth was a big square with a moving lower lip that was just another square, like the nutcrackers that look like little soldiers. He let the cloak fall off his body, and they saw that his arms and legs were hinged and attached to his body by little articulations with screws and bolts. There were burn marks all over his skin, but his skin was all pale and in some parts looked as if it were melted by something hot, rather than burnt. As he moved, the hinges creaked and squeaked horribly as if they were rusted by the moisture of the sewers. A horrible man he was indeed!

Suddenly, they realized that the Doll-maker was not a man at all.

He was a doll!

“There you have it!,”said the Doll-maker, and his lip moved up and down creepily as he spoke, “I am one of them. One of the dolls that were deliberately abandoned when the big fire at the toy factory consumed the building. I was there when the ceiling collapsed and the ashes swirled around and all the toys burned and melted and got crushed by the debris. I managed to save many of my comrades and hid down here in the sewers ever since, bidding my time. How I came to life, even I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. The point is that I will do away with you living beings, one by one if necessary, starting with you two meddlesome little mice!”

The Doll-maker slowly took his hands to his chest and opened a little compartment that he had inside it. His fingers made horrible little clicking sounds when they moved. He then pulled a strange little glass bottle out of his chest. It was intricately decorated with little ribbons and shaped glass ornaments. Inside, the mice could see something white and shiny, like a light.

It was the children’s souls!

“You want this, don’t you?,”said the Doll-maker, “Well, you won’t have it! I’m going to hang on to it. And you’re going to hang from the ceiling when I’m through with you! DIE!”

He raised his hand and brought it down with great force. Bernard pushed Miss Bianca out of the way and managed to dodge it himself. The hit shattered the concrete floor. The Doll-maker’s strength was unnatural.

Quickly putting the glass bottle back inside his chest and, closing the compartment tightly, the murderous mannequin attacked the mice enraged.

“Stand still, so I can squash you!,”roared the Doll-maker.

He aimed blows at Bernard and Miss Bianca, but they managed to escape, often barely, from being squashed.

The mice hid behind a pipe that ran along the wall, but the Doll-maker punched right through the pipe, almost crushing Bernard. The pipe started to leak, but it wasn’t water.

It was a gas pipe!

The gas started flooding the place, and as Miss Bianca and Bernard dodged the evil Doll-maker’s fists, they couldn’t help inhaling the foul gas. Miss Bianca started to feel very faint. Bernard didn’t know if she’d last any longer without passing out.

“Hehehe, so, you can’t tolerate a little gas, can you?,”mocked the Doll-maker, “You breathing beings sure are pitiful. Now I’ll turn you into mouse mash.”

Suddenly, above them, the cover of the manhole opened. Rufus had managed to tear the teddy bear open and take out the stuffing with his claws.

“Quick! The police are on their way! Get out, now!,”yelled Rufus.

Dodging a fist, Bernard lifted Miss Bianca, who could barely stand, over his shoulder and ran up the ladder like mad. Rufus’ paw was dangling down to help them.

“HERE! HELP HER!,”Bernard said as he lifted Miss Bianca so that Rufus could take hold of her, “HELP BIANCA GET UP!”

Rufus extended his paw and held her gently, lifting her off Bernard’s shoulder.

 “Up you go, darlin’,”said Rufus as he lifted Miss Bianca out of harm’s way and placed her gently on the pavement.

As soon as she breathed some fresh air, Miss Bianca coughed a bit and regained her composure.

Miss Bianca stood up and ran to the edge of the manhole.

“Bernard!,”she cried, “Oh, Bernard, come out quickly!”

“I’m coming!,”said Bernard as he started to run up the ladder towards safety.

But just as he was getting to the last rung, he felt something behind him. Bernard heard those horrible clicking sounds as the Doll-maker jumped up and seized the cover of the manhole by the small holes.

“Oh no, you don’t!,”the Doll-maker said and replaced the cover on the manhole, leaving Bernard trapped with him in the sewer.

“BERNARD!,”Miss Bianca cried desperately, but in the confusion, Bernard lost his footing and fell down to the sewer floor once again.

The evil doll looked up through the holes of the cover at Miss Bianca’s desperate face.

“You’ll never see him again,”he said malignantly to her, “At least not in one piece. I will see to that, personally.”

Miss Bianca felt as if her heart was being stabbed by a hundred skewers.

The Doll-maker’s forearms detached from the rest of his body and he fell back down to the sewer floor below. But his forearms were still holding the cover in place, as if they had a mind of their own.

Miss Bianca frantically tried in vain to lift the cover. She knew she wasn’t strong enough. Desperate, she started biting and clawing at the Doll-maker’s fingers but they didn’t seem to feel anything.

“HELP!,”cried Miss Bianca.

Rufus was trying to keep the little four-year-old girl warm until the medics arrived, lest she get hypothermia with the chill of the night and die. The cat left his important duty for a moment and quickly went to help Miss Bianca, clawing the Doll-maker’s fingers. He tried with all his might to lift the cover, but it was all in vain. Nobody above would be able to lift the cover. The grip of the doll’s forearms was too strong.

“It’s no use,”said Rufus, “I’m afraid he’s on his own.”

Rufus knew that the little girl didn’t have much time, for despite all his efforts, her temperature was dropping fast. He went back and did what he could to keep her warm.

Miss Bianca was alone now, and never before had she felt so alone in her life.

 

Below, Bernard bolted up only to find the Doll-maker standing before him and glaring malignantly at him with the acidic stare of those foul glass eyes.

“Why the hurry?,”said the Doll-maker evilly, “The fun has only begun.”

The Doll-maker had no forearms now, only hinged elbows; but suddenly, something metallic flashed out of his elbows. Where his elbows ended, three very sharp knives in a row came out. Three on each side!

“Now it’s just you and me. So, let’s have some mouse-kabobs, shall we?,”he sneered and swung his right elbow at Bernard.

Bernard jumped back, but the very tip of the knife caught the front of his raincoat and cut a swath across it. A little more and it would have been his skin.

 

Above, on the pavement, Grace had returned, and the police were coming with her. The officers attended the little unconscious girl who was still lying there beside Rufus. Miss Bianca was desperately trying to squeeze herself through the little holes of the manhole cover to help Bernard. She could hear him clashing and dodging the Doll-maker’s deadly knives, knowing that the gas was accumulating and that he would sooner or later feel faint and it would be his end.

Grace ran over to the manhole and found Miss Bianca in her desperate but fruitless efforts.

Miss Bianca wasted no time and told the girl to try with all her might to lift the cover.

“Hurry! Bernard is trapped down there!,”cried Miss Bianca.

Grace pulled the cover, but it was no use. The Doll-maker’s forearms were too strong.

“HELP!,”cried Grace, “HELP! My friend is trapped down there!”

A police officer came and tried to open the cover, but even he couldn’t.

“There’s a gas leak!,”the officer yelled, “It could explode! There are light bulbs down there! Someone call the fire department and tell them to close the gas valve!”

Unfortunately, he was right. One spark, one little short-circuit, and the gas leaking into the sewers would explode!

Miss Bianca’s didn’t know what to do! She was desperate. Her eyes started flooding with tears as she tried to think of a way to rescue her dear Bernard, but under that pressure, she couldn’t think clearly.

“Get away from there, girl!,”said the policeman, “That gas could explode any moment!”

He grabbed Grace and Miss Bianca, whom he took as the girl’s pet, and carried them away from the hole.

“Let me GO!,”yelled Grace, “He’s still….trapped….down there!”

“BERNAAARD!!,”cried Miss Bianca frantically.

 

Down below, Bernard was trying to keep himself from being sliced in half by the furious Doll-maker.

The evil doll thrust his knives at Bernard, but he managed to escape narrowly as the blades crashed into the concrete wall. One of the knives broke off!

“DARN!,”said the Doll-maker, “Cheap workmanship!”

Bernard suddenly looked at the broken knife. It had a small thin handle like a hilt. It was small enough for him to hold in his paws. This was his chance!

Bernard quickly dashed and seized the knife, holding it in front of him like a sword. Now at least he had a weapon!

The Doll-maker laughed.

“Little fool! Do you really think you can fight me?,”he said as he swung his knife-studded elbow at Bernard.

Bernard quickly jumped and swung his ‘sword’, cutting deeply into the Doll-maker’s arm.

“OUCH!,”the Doll-maker yelled, “Why, you little pest!”

The Doll-maker swung again furiously, but Bernard sidestepped and swung his blade at the knives. Another broke off.

“You don’t know when you’re beat, eh?,”the Doll-maker growled.

Bernard grabbed the broken knife and quickly began spinning it over his head.

With the right momentum, he flung it hard and true at the Doll-maker’s face, striking him right in the middle of the eyes.

“AAAAH!,”the Doll-maker screamed. The knife was stuck between his eyes and since he had no fingers he couldn’t pull it out. He tried to use his knifes to extract it and was having a difficult time.

Bernard knew that this was his chance! He ran between the Doll-maker’s legs and tried to chop one leg down like a tree. But the Doll-maker quickly took advantaged and kicked Bernard against the wall. Bernard hit the wall and his sword fell out of his paw, landing in the less-than-crystalline water in the canal below.

He was doomed.

The Doll-maker managed to pull the knife out of his face and tossed it aside as he advanced upon Bernard.

Bernard quickly tried to get up and run, but he stumbled backwards over a small object.

The Doll-maker savored the moment, knowing that Bernard had no escape.

“Hehehehe, you filthy little rodent,”said the Doll-maker, “Did you really think you stood a chance? Look at you now, about to become mincemeat for the sewer roaches to feast upon.”

He looked at Bernard with evil satisfaction.

 “I must admit, though, that you are a worthy adversary. You have a strong soul. You have courage, resolve, altruism, no vanity whatsoever…quite a rarity indeed, your soul is,”said the Doll-maker, “It’s a pity I won’t be able to extract it from you. You see, children are na´ve and gullible; they open their hearts more easily. They project their confidence and their feelings, their purest and deepest feelings, towards inanimate objects such as their toys, which makes it possible to manipulate them and extract their essence with great ease. An object filled with strong feelings can be very dangerous indeed. But you…the one thing you project your deepest feelings towards reciprocates those strong feelings, projects them back to you in return, which makes it impossible for me to control.”

The Doll-maker meant Miss Bianca. Bernard felt his heart burn inside his chest. So that was how the Doll-maker manipulated the toys, with the children’s very own feelings. The toys found on the street were always the favorite ones of their owners, the ones they loved best, the ones they projected most feelings towards. These accumulated feelings were the key to the Doll-maker’s control over them. Bernard, on the other hand, projected his deepest feelings towards Miss Bianca, and she in turn projected her deepest feelings towards him. Uncanny as it was, somehow it all made sense.

“Well, I cannot have your soul, but at least I’ll get equal satisfaction in watching you die, nice and slow,”said the Doll-maker.

The Doll-maker started sharpening his knives by grinding them against each other with a spine-chilling rasping sound.

“Despite your courage, any endeavor against me is a worthless gesture,”said the Doll-maker, “Try to stop me you may have, I will still bring a new army to life and taste the sweet black nectar of revenge. And as a prelude to my success, I think I’ll begin with a little sup of mouse blood, which I’m sure you will provide generously. Hehehe.”

Bernard looked at the object he had stumbled over and suddenly realized what it was.

It was a cigarette lighter!

The sewer was filled with gas, and Bernard could hardly breathe well. There before him was his only chance of defeating the Doll-maker, even if it meant getting killed himself. It was the only hope. Regardless of the consequences, Bernard would stop at nothing get the children safely returned to their homes and end the Doll-Maker’s schemes for good. He had an assignment to accomplish, and that’s what he would do.

Brave Bernard summoned all his might and straightened up, taking the cigarette lighter in his paws and opening the top. Inside was a spark wheel. He had only to turn it, and there would be a spark good enough to set the gas alight.

“Little mouse, you have just met your doom,”said the Doll-maker raising his knives, ready to strike.

Bernard looked at the Doll-maker and grinned. His heart was pounding, but he had no other choices. He would put an end to this, once and for all.

“No,”he said, “You’ve just you met yours.”

Bernard put his paw on the wheel.

“Goodbye Bianca,”he said bravely with a tear rolling down his cheek, “I love you.”

With all his might, he turned the wheel and made it spark.

                                               *          *          *

A deafening sound thundered into the night as the gas down in the sewers exploded violently! The cover of the manhole flew up into the air and landed on a nearby police car, shattering its windshield.

Miss Bianca and Grace gasped as they watched the flames climb high up from the manhole.

“NOOOO!!!,”Miss Bianca shrieked, “BERNAAAAARD!”

She ran off towards the flames, but Grace pulled her back.

“No! Miss Bianca, don’t!,”she cried.

Miss Bianca struggled to get free from the girl’s hands.

“Let…me…GO!,”Miss Bianca yelled between sobs.

“MISS BIANCA, YOU CAN’T!,”cried Grace.

Miss Bianca didn’t care anymore! She struggled and even scratched at the girl’s fingers with her little claws. But Grace didn’t loosen her grip.

“Let…go of ME!!!,”sobbed Miss Bianca, “I MUST HELP HIM! LET GO OF ME!!!”

“NO! MISS BIANCA, THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO! YOU HEAR ME? NOTHING!,”yelled Grace.

Miss Bianca felt too weak to fight longer. Against her will, she stopped struggling. There was truly nothing they could do.

 

The fire whooshed and scorched the walls of the manhole until the gas pipe was closed by the firefighters at another point.

Down in the sewers, only a pile of melting plastic, still flaming, could be seen. What had once been the Doll-maker was now but a pile of junk, burning silently in the darkness.

Flames surrounded the body of a small mouse, licking at his fur without burning it. He twitched and opened his eyes. Bernard saw the flames around him, but didn’t feel them. In fact, he felt cold, as if he were submerged in something.

And he was!

Bernard was floating beneath the surface of the water down in the sewer canal. What he had seen was just the reflection of the flames on the water’s surface. He wasn’t on fire; in fact, he was actually in danger of drowning!

Quickly, Bernard kicked up and surfaced, spluttering and gasping for air as he climbed back to dry ground. The explosion must have sent him flying back and thrown him into the canal where he passed out for a few seconds, escaping the deadly flames.

“Wow. That was a blast!,”said Bernard reaching for his yellow hat.

He put his hat on, but it slipped all the way down to his neck. The top of his hat was gone; it was nothing but a big ring, burnt along the edges.

His whole yellow raincoat, in fact, was singed and full of little holes caused by the force of the explosion.

Bernard just sighed and stuffed the hat into his raincoat pocket.

“Well,”he said, almost cheerfully, “I guess it’s time to get a new raincoat.”

Bernard walked with some difficulty over to the now dying flames, and saw the remains of the Doll-maker. He felt a deep compassion towards the dead doll, knowing how hard it must have been for him to live in solitude with only his grief to keep him company.

“I’m sorry,”said Bernard, “It must have been difficult for you, all alone, forgotten, tormented by the memory of the world above. I hope you find peace and solace in another place; a quiet, still place, better than this cold, unfriendly world.”

Bernard bowed respectfully at the remains of the doll. At least one person, even if it was a little mouse, would pray for the Doll-maker’s peaceful rest in the world beyond.

Suddenly, Bernard noticed something shiny in the middle of the melted plastic.

It was the glass bottle! The bottle that held the children’s souls.

Bernard reached out to take it, but felt the intense heat on the glass and knew that he wouldn’t be able to touch it. But that didn’t stop him.

Ever resourceful and clever, Bernard took his raincoat off and grabbed the edges. He then dipped his raincoat into the canal below, using it to gather some water.

When he had enough, he lifted it and threw the water over the hot bottle.

The glass made little crackling sounds and broke! As soon as it broke, the silvery souls flew out of it, returning to their owners.

Bernard had done it! He had triumphed! The assignment had been accomplished successfully!

“Whew!,”he said, “It’s over. It’s finally…over.”

Wearily, he summoned his last strengths and started to climb up the ladder to the surface, eager to return to the fresh air and openness of the streets…and to his dear, beloved Miss Bianca.

                                               *          *          *

Above, the police were assisting the small children who had been brought to the orphanage temporarily while the medical teams arrived to take them to the hospital. Grace had told the police where they all were and a squad had gone to bring them on stretchers to safety. The children were all alive, but still unconscious.

Suddenly, without explanation, they all twitched and stirred, opening their eyes and some yawning, returning once again to the world, as if they’d only woken up from a long sleep.

But even all this wasn’t enough to make Miss Bianca feel any cheer at all. They had succeeded in their mission, they had freed the children and the Doll-maker was now nothing but a pile of ashes. They had saved everyone, but the price was too high.

She had lost her beloved Bernard. He was gone, and nothing could ever bring him back. Nothing would ever be the same without him. Miss Bianca had been so happy and dreamy about their upcoming wedding; but now, instead of a wedding, they would have a funeral. Instead of a silvery white gown, she would wear a mournful black dress which could never compare itself with the sorrowful, mournful blackness that would remain in her hurt little heart forever.

Poor little Miss Bianca wept bitterly on Grace’s lap as they sat down on the sidewalk of the orphanage. Grace looked at the manhole, knowing that below there was nothing but gloom and the air was heavy with the phantom of death. She knew that any attempt to comfort Miss Bianca would be hopeless. She just sat there in silence; a respectful silence for the poor little mouse’s lost love.

Grace looked at the manhole, and suddenly saw something moving on the rim.

“Huh?,”she mussed and squinted her eyes into better focus.

A little thing seemed to be moving at the edge of the manhole. It was wearing a seared raincoat and waddled as if it were completely exhausted. It was a little brown mouse…it was Bernard!

“Miss Bianca! Look!,”said Grace.

Miss Bianca lifted her head and looked. She saw something moving but couldn’t make it out because her eyes were so full of tears. She wiped her eyes with her tail and blinked twice to get a better look. When she did, her heart almost jumped to her throat.

“BERNARD!,”she cried overjoyed, “BERNARD! YOU’RE ALIVE!!!!”

Miss Bianca jumped off Grace’s lap and ran towards Bernard, who could very barely waddle. She threw her arms around him and hugged him as tight as she could, her eyes streaming with tears, but happy tears.

“Oh, darling! You’re alright! Oh, Bernard, I thought you were killed,”Miss Bianca couldn’t express her happiness in words. She hugged him so closely and so tightly that her arms ached, but she didn’t care. Now everything was perfect. They had triumphed, the children were safe and Bernard was alive and there, in her arms.

Miss Bianca loosened her grip a little and placed her paws on Bernard’s shoulders, gazing lovingly into his eyes as their whiskers brushed affectionately.

“Oh, Bernard, my dear Bernard,”she breathed, “What would ever become of me without you, my love?”

Bernard smiled and nuzzled her nose.

“We…we made it, Bianca,”said Bernard in a weak voice, “We…won.”

Bernard’s eyelids closed. He slumped down, now completely fatigued.

“Bernard! Oh, Bernard, darling! Speak to me,”said Miss Bianca desperately, “Don’t leave me, please! Speak to me.”

Grace bent over and put a small finger on Miss Bianca’s shoulder.

“Don’t worry,”she said, “He’s just too tired to go on. He’ll be alright after he rests a bit.”

The girl carefully lifted Miss Bianca and Bernard and walked over to the orphanage. Miss Bianca caressed Bernard’s cheek, realizing that he was all wet. She untied her hood and tenderly tied it around Bernard’s head to keep him warm. He had had a very tough fight, and Miss Bianca knew that he had employed all his courage and resourcefulness in it. She just smiled and held his paw tenderly, knowing that in a few hours he’d be alright, and that she’d be there when he woke up to provide him with all the love and affection he would need. That was for sure.

                                               *          *          *

Bernard opened his eyes a fraction. He saw something white in front if him. His sight was a bit blurry, so he closed his eyes and opened them again to get better focus. The white thing he saw took shape. An outline of a furry face, a pair of bright eyes. It was Miss Bianca’s face.

“Oh, darling, you’re awake!,”said Miss Bianca.

Bernard lifted his head.

“Bianca? Where…where am I?,”he asked.

“At the hospital,”said Miss Bianca, “Don’t worry, you’re just fine.”

“Yup! In fact, you’ll be ready to leave this very evening!,”said another voice beside him.

It was a little mouse doctor with a writing pad in his paws.

“Brave chap, you are! The young lady here told me all about it,”said the doctor, “Well, you were lucky to survive that explosion, son, cause not many actually do. And you were also lucky you didn’t fracture anything either from your falls into that foul sewer. It appears that you’re a pretty big boned, sturdy fellow, eh? Your osseous density is higher than any other patient I’ve ever attended. Any other mouse would have croaked, but it seems you’re made of tougher stuff, I can tell.”

It was true; any other mouse would have perished. But not Bernard. He was tougher than tough and could take a lot of rough treatment and recover quickly. He was built to endure.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go check on the other patients,”said the doctor as he retired.

The doctor left them. The mouse hospital was actually inside a human hospital, like all the other mouse organizations. Miss Bianca took Bernard’s paw and smiled very fondly.

“How are you feeling, darling?,”she asked.

“Fine,”said Bernard, “Really fine, actually. How about everyone else?”

“All the children are safely at home,”said Miss Bianca, “It’s all over the news.”

“Really?,”asked Bernard.

“See for yourself,”said Miss Bianca and she pointed to a small television set in the corner. Actually, it was a small portable battery-operated TV that humans take on camping trips. On the screen, Bernard saw a strange looking man with hospital clothes on. The announcer was speaking.

“And so, viewers reported that large amounts of clock material and plastic dolls have been sighted floating down the Hudson River, seemingly coming from the sewers. Nobody has any explanation for this strange event, but the police are investigating. And in other news, the great owner of the former McLain’s toy factory has mysteriously awakened after a two year coma,”said the announcer, “Mr. William McLain, better known by friends and admirers as ‘the Doll-maker’…”

“Doll-maker!?,”Bernard exclaimed, “But…wait a minute…you mean?”

Miss Bianca nodded happily.

“…He had been rescued from the debris of his toy factory two years ago in 1958, unconscious,”continued the announcer, “Trying to save his precious toys from the flames, the doctors say he presumably received a hit on the head by falling debris. But now, he is up and about, and he has promised to rebuild his toy factory and restart his production…”

“So, the Doll-maker…was a man!,”said Bernard.

Miss Bianca looked at him and smiled. Bernard pieced the whole thing out in seconds.

“So, the real Doll-maker was the owner of the toy factory,”said Bernard, “He was trying to save his dolls and he got hit by the falling ceiling and fell unconscious. Then…somehow his strong feelings were transmitted…passed on to his dolls…his doll…the Doll-maker. That Doll-maker tried to save the other toys and hid them in the sewers for two years…the man was in coma for two years. The evil Doll-maker felt a grudge against those who abandoned him, so he tried to build his army of dolls to seek revenge. He was composed mainly of feelings: hatred, grief, loneliness, rancor...strong, sorrowful feelings; so he was incapable of feeling sympathy, mercy, compassion or anything else. All he could feel was his own self-pity and his corroding hunger for revenge, which led him to insanity.”

“And now that the evil Doll-maker is defeated, the real Doll-maker woke up,”said Miss Bianca, “And he’ll continue to make toys. Isn’t it all so wonderful and mysterious?”

Bernard agreed.

“But…how? How can a man’s feelings…a man’s soul…inhabit a doll?,”said Bernard.

“There are so many mysteries in the world,”said Miss Bianca, “And this is probably one of those mysteries that will remain so for as long as we live.”

Bernard nodded. It was indeed a mystery, and perhaps it was best to keep it that way.

“And Bernard, look out the window,”said Miss Bianca.

Bernard peered out the window and saw the hospital courtyard full of little white blossoms. It looked as if it had snowed during the night.

“Blossoms,”said Bernard, “Boy, time sure flies. Springtime is here already. It’s sure incredible how…spring…is here…”

Bernard closed his eyes a moment. The next moment he sprung out of bed like a leaping frog.

“Spring is here!,”he said, “Spring is here! That means…”

He looked at Miss Bianca, who was blushing and smiling affectionately.

Bernard grabbed Miss Bianca’s paws and they started dancing around the room with excitement.

“Springtime is here, Bianca! It came early! It came early! Hooray!,”cheered Bernard and hugged Miss Bianca very warmly, “Oh, Bianca, this is the happiest day of our lives!”

“Bernard, you are a darling!,”said Miss Bianca and happily kissed his cheek.

The doctor walked in on them and almost dropped his tray of medicines.

“Mercy!,”he exclaimed.

Bernard and Miss Bianca hugged tightly and savored the warmth of each other’s fur, and to heck with the world!

“Well,”the doctor said chuckling, “Perhaps you won’t have to wait for the evening after all.”

                                               *          *          *

The cheers were deafening! All the mice in the Rescue Aid Society were cheering. The orchestra played wonderfully. The folks from Devil’s Bayou were yelling hoorays for the bride and groom. Everyone was happy. Ellie Mae, the bridesmaid, led the ladies and cheered for the lovely Miss Bianca who looked simply angelical in her silvery gown.

“Gadzooks! Ah tell ya, Ah ain’t never seen such a luvely bride in mah life, sister,”Ellie Mae said with her charming Southern accent to the German delegate, a large mouse lady, “But there wuz never a bride more fit for that there young man! Shucks, he shore’ is somethin’ else!”

A medal was struck in honor of Bernard’s heroism and was displayed in a glass case in the center of the largest table. It was the greatest commemoration the Society could give, for Bernard’s feats of valor and audacity were the greatest in the annals of their history. The best man Luke led all the men in the Society for a toast to the bravest and most gallant mouse of all time, the valiant and heroic Bernard.

“Hear me, y’all? Ah prupose a toast, t’ the greatest mouse ta honor this here Society with his good deeds, and to his long and everlastin’ happiness with the lovely girl in all the years t’ come!,”said Luke, lifting his glass, “To Bernard!”

“TO BERNARD!,”said the men.

All the men got a real scorching in their throats when they sipped Luke’s “special batch” that he had brought from home just for the occasion.

“Jeepers! This one shore’ packs a wallop!,”said Luke, taking another sip.

Evinrude was in charge of the lights overhead, making fancy light effects that made the room looked even lovelier. Every now and then he took some silvery confetti and threw it by the handful up in the air. The confetti drifted slowly to the ground like silver snow flakes that reflected the lights in every direction.

The orchestra played beautifully, following Gramps’ lead.

“Ah wuz a great maestro at mah school band back in 1906! Y’all wanna hear the story after this piece?,”he asked the Mouse Scouts. They all nodded eagerly, for they’ve grown fond of the wise old turtle.

The orchestra had an accompaniment of a distinctively Southern sounding instrument, though. Deadeye the rabbit was plucking the strings of his banjo with the rhythm of the song, and Digger the mole was giving fine tunes to the music with his fiddle.

“Mah pop taught me ta play the banjo when I was a wee lil’ bunny,”said Deadeye, “We used ta play beside the water waitin’ for the fish t’ bite.”

“Mah Uncle Abner was a born a fiddler,”said Digger, “Used ta play all night and he says that’s how mah Aunt Daisy Mae fell for ‘im!”

They chuckled and played beautifully.

In the center of the large decorated room, which was an unused attic far at the top of the UN building, the bride and groom danced happily at the rhythm of a waltz.

Miss Bianca looked into Bernard’s eyes. Dear Bernard, so dauntless and handsome, a heroic and humble mouse at the same time.

She closed her eyes and guided her lips to his, kissing him with all the love she felt. Everyone cheered and applauded. It was a magical moment.

Miss Bianca rested her head against Bernard’s strong chest and sighed contently.

Bernard hugged her and cradled her as the rhythm took a softer, more romantic pace.

“I am so, so happy Bernard,”breathed Miss Bianca, “Thank you for making me the happiest lass in the world.”

“Meeting you was the greatest, most wonderful thing that ever happened in my life, Bianca,”said Bernard, “Our hearts were bound together that day, and they will always be, for our love is eternal.”

“Oh, darling,”Miss Bianca sighed happily.

They swayed happily with the gentle music.

“Where would you like the honeymoon to be, dear?,”whispered Bernard.

“Oh, I was thinking about Disneyland,”Miss Bianca whispered, “I’ve always wanted to ride the Small World.”

Bernard looked at her aghast.

“Oh no! Not more dolls! Anything but dolls!,”he said.

Miss Bianca looked up at him and giggled.

“Just kidding, darling,”she said and gave him a kiss on his nose.

Bernard smiled and laughed. They looked at each other and laughed happily at the joke and at their happiness itself, so complete and wonderful.

Bernard and Miss Bianca hugged each other warmly and swayed with the rhythm of the lovely music. It was indeed the happiest day of their lives.

 

THE END