The dog brought her head up when she heard the snap, and she thought then that it was all over.
It was not.
Over the next few days, as she roamed the house, she thought she could smell the sweet, clinging odor of decay, but she couldn't localize it. It could have been in the kitchen; could have been in the bathroom. It might even have been behind a wall somewhere. Or it could have just been something in the kitchen trash. One never really knows where bad smells come from when there are children in the home.
It had been weeks since the Mouse Man had come, laying his snap traps and glue strips throughout the house. And since Doots had vanished down the hole under the bathroom sink, she had not seen or heard a whisper from him. The traps had remained empty, though. So the Mouse Man returned, bearing his poisoned grains, and hid those throughout the house, too.
The family had begun speaking of "the mice" rather than "the mouse", though. That had been the only realy change in the great standoff. The Mouse Man had uncovered two corners in the house - both in forgotten spaces in the backs of closets - where the "Mouse" had built nests. Nests: plural. More than one. Thus, "mice" and not "mouse".
And the dog mourned her friend, though she sensed he was not gone.
Winter dragged on, finally giving way to spring. In fact, it tried to leap over spring and directly into summer, but missed by the smallest fraction of an inch, and the weather scrabbled back and forth between blistering humidity and near-freezing rain for a few days.
When the roulette wheel came to a stop, and the little, steel ball finally clicked into "spring", the trees exuded their fine, yellow spunk in one great, universal arboreal orgasm. Everyone developed breathing problems and red, streaming eyes; the dog began shedding her magnificent winter coat; and the windows raised and lowered in accordance with the predicted pollen count each day.
The dog sat locked in her kennel one morning, enjoying the air from the open window next to the box. She was not thinking about lonliness or despair; she was not missing her little friend, or their huddled winter conversations. That was when the voice returned.
"Hey, kibble breath! What's shaking?"
"Doots?" she gasped, and she looked around, trying to locate the source of the voice.
"Sure, I guess you can call me that," said the voice. "We're all one big family."
The voice peeked out from the corner of the kennel. It was not Doots. This was a smaller, younger mouse. But it carried itself the same way, and spoke in the same manner. She finally had to ask it to be sure.
"Strictly speaking, Doots is dead," said the new mouse. "Though, we never really die. Doots got 'reabsorbed' is all." The new, little mouse licked her lips at the memory. "We're a collective; we share everything, even our bodies and our mind. We are all 'Doots', really. You can think of me as a 'Dootlet' if you want to!" And she giggled a high, squeaky mouse giggle.
The dog was not amused.
Dogs, by their nature, are not great philosophers. Some do enjoy a bit of meditation, but most prefer to nap when they aren't being active. Cats are the thinkers; dogs prefer straightforward action, physical contact, and a clear, stable day to day universe. This whole "mouse collective consciousness" thing was lost on a dog.
And this dog had been suffering. Her friendship with Doots had brought an unfamiliar shame into her relationship with the humans. She had agonized over where her loyalties lay, and had put up with their accusations and their mockery. She had been hurt, and here was a stranger asking her to accept a substitute for that friendship.
She barked. Being part beagle, it was the peculiar baying yelp that said she was on the trail of prey. And the Dootlet - as far as a mouse is able to do so - blanched with terror, and dove under the cushion of the kennel. The dog writhed and tore at the inside of her box, trying to get at the fleeing mouse.
It was a grand ruckus, and it ended with a terror-bleached mouse flinging herself out into the open for a moment, only to dart back under the baseboards.
"Screw you, pup!" the angry little voice shouted. "We coulda been friends!"
"I have friends," said the dog. And she curled up to await the return of her humans.
But she kept one eye on the baseboards. Because now, she knew that the game was on, and which side she was playing for.