“Trimeter” by Ray_Thompson

Trimeter sat by herself in the dark, trimming her nails. Around her were tall, neat piles of treasures. To her left were unnumbered mounds of dried meat scraps, sorted into heaps ranging from hare to chimera. To her right, a collection of heavily salted potatoes, some cut in thin slices, others diced into thick chunks that were softer in the middle. Trimeter’s back was to a loaf of bread, long-since stale, more than halfway eaten through by now. This far out, the travelers who picnicked outside of Trimeter’s door were only able to bring foods that were slower to spoil. Because of this, over the years of adding to her collection, she had seen very little of it go to waste. The things that molded, she brought outside. The things that were too stale for even her, she kept in the far back corner of the room, in the bottom drawer of an old dresser that she had chewed a hole through the bottom of. The good things, she kept in the center, in her nest. Her nest—nearly a third the size of the entire room, now—was made from the bones of other creatures larger and smaller than herself, and decorated with their wealth: dropped crusts; molted feathers; jars of pickled vegetables; amputated claws; cloth, in strings and patches; heavy, shiny scales; pins, buttons, clasps; enough socks for a battalion of men to choose from; one boot, which most nights, Trimeter slept in the ankle of; two sandals, not a match, collected years apart, made from entirely different kinds of wood; a great big mess of shoelaces, some of which were spares that she had taken out of rucksacks, but most of which were ones that she had chewed and pulled off of the boots themselves during the night. The joys she used to have in stealing from travelers had dulled considerably at some point, knowing that back at her nest, she had another of whatever it was that she was taking. On the desk at the back of the room, beside a foul-smelling book, was a heavy metal goblet which never emptied of water no matter how much from it Trimeter drank. By this point in her life, the boney grey rat had amassed everything she could need for the conceivable future, and she well knew it: she had not left this hidden room in a month.

Trimeter had never wondered about the original owner of this room. The room, to her, seemed as naturally a part of the world as the forests, or the oceans, or the mountains. She had found the room behind a stone door, which was planted by itself in the side of a steep hill, a little ways off a long road. She had made her way in through an old groundhog’s burrow, also abandoned, adjacent to the hidden room, and conveniently near a fault in one of the room’s four stone walls. Upon entering for the first time, Trimeter had smelled that nobody had been in the room in ages, and so she had quickly taken residency. For years, she heard passers by knock at the door, or even try to batter it open, but the door always held. As Trimeter trimmed her nails in the dark, she only dimly paid mind when, coming from outside, she heard the crunch of yet another traveler’s footsteps falling over the autumn leaves.

The newest traveler, as they always did, came to the door. Trimeter, done with trimming her nails, grabbed a nearby bone—a small one; the pelvis from a bird—and began gnawing on it, to keep her teeth trim as well.

Outside the door, before even knocking, the traveler bellowed out a deep loud laugh. Trimeter lowered the bird’s pelvis, and twitched her ears once.

The traveler knocked; the stone door crumbled to rubble and dust like a silk curtain dropped. Outside, starkly silhouetted against a startling daylight, was a short and broad man with a long beard and a tall pointed hat. Trimeter backstepped behind a larger bone—the femur of a stag—and stared up at the dwarf, tiny heart racing.

The old dwarf stood in the doorway for a moment. At first, his face had been beaming, and his posture tall: immediately, his eyes had settled on the desk at the far end of the room, with the large foul book and the heavy endless goblet. Then, though, the old dwarf had noticed the floor.

Trimeter herself had never seen her own nest in full sunlight like this: it was an utter disaster. Bones and meats, skins and horns, shreds of clothes and pieces from armors—it was like the inside of a dragon’s stomach. Hastily, Trimeter leapt away from this mess, hobbling and slipping over loose rubbish as she went; after escaping her nest, she arrived at the far corner of the room, and hid from the old dwarf behind the leg of the old dresser. While running, she’d looked once back over her shoulder, and had seen that the old dwarf was looking straight at her. There was no point in hiding inside the dresser itself; if he came towards her, she would have better chances outside the drawer of darting around him and fleeing into the hills.

Trimeter peeked her eyes and nose around the dresser’s leg. At the doorway, still frowning, the old dwarf sighed. He stepped into the room. He knelt down on one knee at the edge of Trimeter’s nest. After glancing around the nest for a moment, he picked up a metal gauntlet, whose shiny glare Trimeter hadn’t seen since she first brought it in here, dragging it home over the course of a week, feet per day. Holding the gauntlet, the dwarf looked down at it for a good moment. Then, still holding it, he looked over to Trimeter, and raised an eyebrow.

Trimeter, still hiding behind the leg of the dresser, was petrified. The dwarf harrumphed, grumbled, and set the gauntlet down. His eyes scanned over Trimeter’s nest yet again. Leaning forward, the dwarf plucked up a wig from near the nest’s middle: the wig was blonde, curled, and had been about shoulder-length on the woman whom Trimeter had stolen it from; now, having been in this room a while, it was quite tangled. The dwarf turned the wig over in his hands a small number of times, before taking off his pointed hat and flipping the wig straight up onto his old bald head.

Trimeter sneezed in surprise, and took one step out from behind the dresser’s leg to get a better look at what the dwarf was doing.

The dwarf, again looking right back at Trimeter, raised the corners of his mouth a bit. He ran a flat hand down each side of the wig to straighten it out, and then said something to Trimeter in a consonant-heavy tongue.

Perhaps reflexively, the rat ran a paw over the hair on her head just as the dwarf had, grooming herself once.

The dwarf chuckled. He took the wig off, set it back down on the nest in nearly the same place where he had found it, and put his hat back on.

Hmming to himself, the dwarf put his hands on his hips, and again looked around and around at Trimeter’s things.

Eventually, he picked up the boot which Trimeter often slept in.

She squeaked up at him and took a few steps forward, now standing in front of the dresser’s leg.

Quickly, the dwarf set the boot back down and held up his hands in front of himself. Again, he said something, smiling as he did.

Trimeter, realizing that she was now standing out in the open in front of the dresser, backed up a step. She stood like a tightly compressed coil, ready to leap away and be gone.

The dwarf made a movement, slow enough to convince Trimeter that is wasn’t an attack. Keeping his eyes on her the whole time, the dwarf reached into a pocket, retrieved something, and then held it up for the rat to see.

Trimeter’s nose twitched as she tried to smell it, but the scent was simply not rushing to her just yet. It looked to be a small brown ball that the dwarf held in his fingers.

Still moving slowly, the dwarf set the ball on the ground in front of himself. Trimeter, having interacted with travelers before, recognized this as a trap. She kept still right where she was.

The dwarf rolled his eyes, reached down to the ball again, and flicked it in Trimeter’s direction: the old rat leapt away and darted back behind the dresser’s leg. She was back in safety before the ball even landed on the floor and rolled to a stop, right beside where she’d been standing.

Now that the ball was close to her, she could see quite clearly that it was a bit of food: bread, with some crystals buried in it—salt was an utterly common thing to see on any food, to keep it from going bad. Trimeter did not expect, when she smelled the ball of bread, that it would be anything but salty. But in fact, when the smell did reach her, it was overwhelmingly sweet. For all her dry and salted treasures, Trimeter had never before in her life been this close to an entire pastry. Inching out from behind the dresser yet again, Trimeter stretched forward and took a bite; as she moved, the dwarf stayed still, watching her; when she bit into the side of the ball, she found that the outside was a thin layer of sugary bread, while the inside was a fruity, sweetness-laden cream. her mind buzzed at the sensation of a new, pleasurable taste. She took another small bite, and another. Then she stepped forward all the way and stood behind the pastry ball, resting both of her front legs on the ball as she stood tall facing the dwarf, twitching her nose up at him to smell what else he was carrying.

The dwarf’s expression dropped slightly as he squinted down at the rat. With her standing with her front legs on the pastry ball, he could see that the rodent was missing her front left paw.

Trimeter held up her arm with the missing paw for the dwarf to see—travelers often seemed interested.

The dwarf gave a little hm, and a guarded smile. Slowly, he held up his left hand; then, pulling a queer expression, the dwarf poked his own eye twice; his fingernail made a loud glassy tap against the eye both times.

The old dwarf stood up. He walked around Trimeter’s nest—the far way, giving Trimeter her distance. Standing at the desk, he hefted up the heavy goblet, looked down into it, poured out a portion from the top, and then had a drink. He pulled back the desk’s chair. Upon sitting down, he opened his book.

Trimeter sat down as well, in front of her pastry, and watched the dwarf as he read.