General disclaimer that basically everything on this site, including the site itself, is a "work-in-progress." —Jerrika
About some mice
Once several owls lived in a junk yard that was next to a garbage heap. They lived there because lots of mice lived on the ground, getting their food from the heap next door. Despite there being an extraordinarily large mouse population, none of the families of mice actually knew of each other because all the metal in the junk yard blocked the smells of any mice from getting to other ones, and the trash next door was replaced enough that they didn't smell each other there either. As a result, each mouse family believed that they were solely responsible for the continuation of their species. This suited the owls because it caused the mice to reproduce ardently, providing an exponentially abundant food source through their ignorance.
Whenever the owls regurgitated their pellets, the mice found and brought them home to remove the bones of their fallen brethren. They then arranged the skeletons completely, marked the skull with a symbol that was specific to one of their lost numbersjfkd;lsa, and smashed the bones into dust to spread out along the path to the garbage heap. This was done as a means to quiet their footsteps when they crept out at night to collect their food.
Of course, mice are mice and have certain commonalities throughout their species, but each of the mouse family also had its singularities. One of these mouse families had the trait of an extra toe on each paw. Although this family of mice increased their numbers diligently, they still represented a very small percentage of the total mouse population in the junk yard. The owls might drop a pellet with one of that family's skeletons in it, but they were so infrequently found compared to those with the more common number of toes that most mice never thought anything of it; whenever the family with the extra toes found a pellet with another family's mouse, they assumed that there weren't enough bones for all of their digits because the owls had ripped them off when they ate them, and the families without the extra toes assumed that any extra toe bones were just extra toes the owl had managed to eat from some other poor mouse. Enough toes ended up missing from skeletons anyway that it made sense for them to turn up in other owl meals.
The mouse family closest to the one with the extra toes survived especially well in the junk yard. Instead of simply marking their family's bones with a symbol on the skull, they completely painted all of the bones, resulting in a darker bone dust that left less obvious tracks for the owls to see. These darker footprints helped them avoid the owls; they were harder to see, thus harder to hunt.
The extra-toed mouse family was very good at growing, but it was hunted very easily because of the extra bone dust the toes in their skeletons produced; more dust meant a longer trail of it behind them. Mice do not think vertically very well, and it did not occur to them that their efforts to quiet their footsteps from the owls were being negated visual, very easy-to-follow evidence of them instead.
Although the owls hunted throughout the entire junk yard, they did have spots that they preferred. Each preferred territory spanned across the homes of several mice families, and the owls would also go to their favorite hunting spots to spit up their owl pellets. The owl who most often hunted where the extra toed mice lived also hunted where the mice with the darker bone dust lived.
As the extra-toed mouse family grew, so did the frequency in which their usual owl predator dropped pellets with extra toes where the mice with darker dust would find them. For a while, the missing and extra toes added up well enough that the mice with darker dust had no reason to suspect that there might be other mice out there.
However, eventually, the darker dust mouse family noticed that they were finding more toes than they were losing. The resulting commotion of this discovery was further exacerbated by the fact that, upon closer inspection, the extra toes did not, in fact, fit correctly with any of their paws. The toes must have come from other mice!
They were immediately relieved to learn that the survival of their species did not rest wholly on their little shoulders, but they still weren't sure what to do with the information. Should they continue their lives as they had been, remaining isolated only with the added comfort and peace that they were not alone in the world? Should they risk sending out extra mice to find this other mouse family and join together for a more populous existence? To what end would increasing their numbers take them anyway? If the other mouse family was as large as theirs, would both families need to move to a different part of the junk yard that could accommodate their doubled masses? Would they remain in their original homes, with a route between them that offered an additional exposure to the owls? What if the other mouse family was threatened by them and attacked?
After weighing all the options and outcomes they could come up with, the darker dust mouse family decided that it was worth the risk to find others of their kind, and so sent several mice out in small groups, heading in all the directions. A few of these groups ended up searching in the overlapping hunting territory of other owls, and suffered increased consumption than they usually had to face. Others weren't sure how long they were supposed to look, and returned home before they found anyone else. One group, however, found the bone dust of the family with the extra toes, which was spread out further from their home than the dust from any other mice families. Those with extra toes were as relieved at the discovery of other mice as the darker dust mice had been. Each family was fascinated with the feet of the other, and, I'm order to further indulge their curiosity, agreed to leave some of the darker dust mice with the extra toed mice, and to send some extra toed mice back with the darker dust mice.
The two mouse families formed a close bond, and continued to export members back and forth. This exchange resulted in the extra toed mice adopting the practice of painting their entire skeletons, rather than just a skill symbol. Eventually, the dust around their home became darker, and left trails that were harder to follow. They lost fewer mice, and were therefore more comfortable sending more mice out to look for other mouse families. They were not disappointed; they found routes all along the garbage heap that led back to dozens of other mouse families. The extra toed mice and darker dust mice carried their practice of painting their dead's bones, and eventually all of the mice in the junk yard began to use this method. The bone dust throughout the junkyard began to darken, and the owls could not find mice like they used to, even though the mice were more numerous than ever before.
The mice increased contact with each other to the point that every mouse family's home had a trail of bone dust leading from one to another. Although they saw a drop in the number of owl pellets they needed to dissect for mouse remains, increased population means an increased death toll. The bone dust trails were solid.
The paint that the mice used for their bones was actually oil from all of the machinery in the junk yard. This oil was spread along the ground throughout the junk yard by the bone dust trails. One night, there was an exceptionally bad storm, and lightening struck something in the junk yard. The trails caught fire, and the rain couldn't put it out because it was oil. All of the mice families had to escape from their homes in the junk yard before the metal around them heated so much that they would get burned up. Few of the mice met that fate, but the light from the fire made the mice very easy to spot. The owls had been angry at how little food they'd been able to find, and out of greed and spite ate more mice than they were hungry for. They caught so many mice that they became too heavy to fly out of the flames, and one by one, as each owl chased just *one* extra mouse, they paid for their immoderation with their lives.
The mice that escaped their burning homes and the owls' mouths ran into the field beside the junk yard. They all stood together and watched as both their homes and the garbage heap burned, terrified by not knowing what to do next. Most of them had survived, but they found little consolation in that. They felt that being a part of such a large group in the open space of the field made them a bigger target than they'd ever been in their smaller groups in the junk yard, and they didn't know what would hunt then out here. However, they couldn't just separate into their original families; they has exchanged so many mice between each other that they weren't entirely sure who belonged to what family anymore.
While they hurried to find a solution, one of the mice with extra toes stood on the edge of the group, and absent mindedly scratched his toes into the ground. He was startled by how easily the dirt crumbled compared to the metal sheets in the junk yard, and he began to dig.
At first none of the other mice paid any attention to his digging, but when the hole he dug was deep enough that he had all but disappeared, those closest to him stopped looking at the burning junk yard and started looking for the missing mouse who was last seen where there was now hole they didn't remember seeing before. One of the braver mice went down the hole to look for him, saw what he was doing, and was so shocked by how easily the dirty around them broke apart that he started digging, too. The mice on the surface called down to them, and the brave mouse went back to tell them what they had learned about this new place. The news spread through all of the mice standing in the field, and the further it went, the more mice began digging down to see for themselves. Sure enough, they all found the dirt crumbled in their claws. More and more mice were underground, and they all realized that this might be their only means to protect themselves in this wide open space.
They called for all the mice to return to the surface, and developed blueprints for their new home. They didn't want any of their tunnels to cave in from mice accidentally digging into each other, so they spent three days discussing and designing what would best hold all of them at once. They decided that spreading out in the field would best support all of the mice. They broke up into groups, each of which was given a basic layout for a living space that would connect to any of the spaces around it on order to form a sprawling but efficient network for all of the mice to communicate and protect each other. They began their digging assignments, and discovered tons of roots along the way that they learned they could eat. They also discovered that the plants on the surface were edible, and they were all grateful for these apparently more renewable and energizing food sources.
The mice continued to carve out this new existence, but maintained their tradition of smashing the bones of their dead. However, without the oil from the machinery in the junk yard, they were unable to paint the bones, so the dust was once again white. After the fire died out in the junk yard, a few courageous mice went in search of the bones of their less fortunate comrades, both in the remains of their old homes and from between the ribs of the charred, gluttonous owls.
They used the bone dust from these mice for the floors of the tunnels that linked each small home group of mice, viewing the stark white of the dust against the black tunnels simultaneously as a solemn reminder of the bright fire that had forced them out of their homes, and as a symbol of the newfound safety their new homes offered from the dark threat of the owls they had feared longer than even the oldest mouse could remember. The bones of the dead no longer endangered those of the living by directing death to them; that cycle was now broken.