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december, 2019 third place winner: clap if you believe by eva schultz

The mouse wasn’t moving. Flora ran a finger along its soft back, hoping it was just unconscious. “Wake up,” she whispered through chapped lips.

She was used to the greedy-eyed alley rats that fought her for leftover morsels in the trash behind the bakery. But this delicate creature, curled under a wad of newspaper on the cold cobblestone, was so little and alone. She wanted to wrap it in her thin shawl, share her scraps, make it her friend.

She rubbed numb fingers against her aching temples, remembering a time before the fever took Mother away, when they still lived in a house and Flora slept in a bed. Mother had read her a story about a dying faerie whose friends saved her life by clapping their hands.

She leaned over the mouse and clapped her stiff hands, hope and dread paralyzing her throat.

The mouse’s nose twitched. Flora gasped and clapped harder.

In staccato movements, the mouse rose, looked around, and ran up her lap. Flora opened her hand, and it perched on her palm.

Its form was brighter now, like the streetlamp was shining right through it. Flora looked down – its limp form was still on the ground. Awed, she brought her hand near her face, and the mouse nuzzled her cheek.

She touched its nose and found that her fingers didn’t hurt anymore. She stepped over a dark form on the ground beside the mouse and walked away in the peaceful glow, no longer alone.

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