Emmy and the Rats in the Belfry

BOOK: Emmy and the Rats in the Belfry
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To my dear son Rob,
in the fond hope that someday, somehow,
he will forgive me for the Spray Pam incident
(though I doubt he will ever forget)

—L. J.

1

T
HE PIEBALD RAT
laid back her ears, crouched on the third-story windowsill, and looked in the bedroom. The girl on the bed was motionless except for the quiet rise and fall of breath beneath the blanket, and her eyes were closed.

The rat smiled, her sharp teeth showing, and glanced over her shoulder. “She's still sleeping, Cheswick. Get a move on.”

A glossy black rodent heaved himself up a last few inches of grapevine and wriggled through the corner tear in the window screen. “Just let me—catch my breath—Jane, dear,” he panted, flopping on the blue painted sill.

“Don't be such a weenie, Cheswick. You don't see
me
breathing hard, do you?”

“That's because—I carried you—most of the way,” wheezed the black rat. “On my back, my precious—little cupcake.”

The piebald rat narrowed her eyes. “Are you suggesting that I'm
heavy
, Cheswick? Are you saying I need to lose
weight
?”

“No! Not at all!” the black rat cried.

“Then get busy,” snapped the piebald rat, grabbing the cord that dangled from the window blind. “You can find me on the bathroom counter when you're done. I do love a nice big mirror.”

“As well you should!” gasped Cheswick, but his beloved Jane had already slid down the cord and was halfway across the carpet.

Cheswick sighed. The room, in the early morning light, looked remarkably tidy for a ten-year-old girl's. Books were shelved, the floor was clear of toys, and in the half-open closet he could see clothes hung neatly on their hangers. It was really a pity to mess it up.

Still, if it would make Jane happy …

 

The girl was still sleeping when Cheswick Vole finished his work, but he hardly glanced at the pajama-clad arm outside the blanket or the straight dark hair that fell across one cheek. Through a half-open door he could see blue Italian tile and the straight, smooth side of a Jacuzzi.

The black rat leaped from the floor to the stool lid to the tank. His hind feet scrabbled on the roll of toilet paper and sent it spinning as he clawed his way up onto the bathroom countertop, narrowly missing an open bottle of mouthwash. He pattered across polished marble to the side of the piebald rat, who stood gazing at the mirror, idly fluffing her patches of brown, tan, and white.

“All done, my little rosebud—”

“Do you think I should dye my fur?” Jane Barmy interrupted. “These patches are all too recognizable.”

“But my precious pudding cup, you're beautiful just as you are! I don't want you to change one itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny—”

“Oh, shut
up
, Cheswick. Don't you
ever
get tired of fawning?”

“Not if it's fawning on you, my little Janie-Wanie …” The black rat lifted his upper lip in an uncertain smile and twisted his paws together.

“And enough with the ‘Janie-Wanie.'” The piebald rat sniffed twice and curled her tail elegantly around one perfectly manicured paw. “I may not be the beauty queen I once was—”

“You're prettier than ever!” Cheswick said loyally.

“And I may be just a little more furry—”

“Just a trifle! Hardly noticeable!”

“But I am still Miss Jane Barmy, and I'll thank you to remember it. The Barmy name was a proud one, once—and will be again, just as soon as I get my revenge on that nasty little Emmaline Addison!”

The last words were hissed through her long front teeth, and Cheswick Vole shivered in spite of himself, glancing through the doorway to the bed beyond. “Dearest Jane, why do you insist upon revenge? She's only a little girl.”

“A little girl who turned me into a
rat
!” snarled Miss Barmy.

“But it wasn't Emmy who did that—it was Raston, that ratty friend of hers, remember? He bit you, and you shrank. He bit you again, and you turned into a rat. It wasn't the little girl at all.”

“Close enough.” Miss Barmy lifted her lip in a sneer. “And besides, I
hate
rich little girls. I should have been the rich one! Why didn't old William Addison leave it all to
me
?”

“Don't torture yourself, Jane! Forget the past!” Cheswick Vole clasped his paws over his heart. “We could be happy together, you and I. We could raise a family—”

Miss Barmy's whiskers stiffened. “Raise a family? Of what, Cheswick?
Rats
?”

“Well, we're rodents now, after all. It's only logical.” The black rat warmed to his subject, a happy smile bunching his furry cheeks until his eyes were squeezed almost shut. “We could find a little place in the country, a nice, sandy riverbank burrow with a view. We could get married …” He blushed beneath his fur. “You could have a litter. Six is a nice number, don't you think? Three boys and three girls?”

He opened his eyes, saw Miss Barmy's face, and took a sudden step backward. “Sugarplum! Don't look like that!” The black rat's nose quivered. “I didn't mean anything—of course, it's completely up to you—”

“A litter? A
litter
? Do you think I plan on remaining a rat forever?”

“Well, you don't seem able to change back into a human,” said Cheswick hurriedly. “Not in the usual way, you know. Professor Capybara said it was because you needed to learn to love, but that's ridiculous. You're so dear and loving already, aren't you, my little cuddle-bunny-umpkins—”

“Stop blabbering, you old fool,” snarled the piebald rat. “Professor Capybara knows how to turn us into humans again, I'm sure. We just need to make him talk.”

“Well, I don't know …” Cheswick Vole sneaked a glance in the mirror. He wasn't so sure he wanted to change back. When he had been a human, he'd possessed a narrow chest, beaky nose, thinning hair, and a reedy voice. But as a rat he was big, dark, and handsome, with a fine set of whiskers and a bold, bright eye. Just looking at his reflection in the mirror—such perky ears!—gave him confidence.

“Being a rat has its advantages,” he pointed out. “A rat can forage for food. He can live almost anywhere, for free. And no one expects him to pay taxes.”

“Yes, yes,” said Miss Barmy, “but he's still a
rat
.” She clicked her claws together one by one. “Even if I get my revenge on Emmaline, even if I get her parents' money and this mansion and the boats and everything, what am I going to do with it if I'm still a
rodent
?”

“You could create an indoor water park,” suggested Cheswick eagerly. “Just the right size for rats! You could wear one of Barbie's bikinis!”

Miss Barmy gave him a withering glare. “Listen, Cheswick. I am not putting on a Barbie-doll bikini, and I am not having any litters, and I am most certainly not marrying you. Not as long as I stay a rat.”

Cheswick's eyes widened. “But as a human, Jane? Would you marry me if you were a human again?”

The piebald rat smiled a long, slow smile. Then she edged closer and nuzzled the black rat under his jowls. “Chessie?”

Cheswick closed his eyes with a look of ecstasy and pressed Miss Barmy's paw. “Yes, my little pumpkin?”

“Do you
want
to marry me, my darling?”

“Oh! Oh, Jane! It would be my dream come true!”

“Then you'd better figure out how to turn me into a human again,” Miss Barmy said sharply, pushing him away.

Cheswick Vole was panting heavily. “Whatever you say, precious. And is there anything else? Anything at all?”

The piebald smiled, showing all her teeth. “Well, I do have a few more ideas for making Emmy's life perfectly miserable—” She stopped, her ears alert. “What's that noise?”

A soft chittering came from the far windowsill. Cheswick sniffed deeply and froze. “It's rodents from Rodent City! A bunch of them!”

Miss Barmy stared in alarm. “Do something, Chessie! Hide me!”

Cheswick's chest swelled, and his furry shoulders squared with manly determination. He leaped for the bottle of mouthwash and tipped it over, hanging grimly on to the neck as the green liquid, smelling powerfully of mint, poured over Miss Barmy's head.


Eeeeheeee—urp!”
choked the piebald rat. “What do you think you're doing, you—you idiot, you
moron
—”

“Must disguise our scent,” Cheswick hissed, splashing mouthwash up onto his own fur, “or they'll know we're here. Now hurry! Follow me!”

2

E
MMY ADDISON
came slowly out of sleep to an odd feeling of heaviness on her rib cage, and the sound of little voices whispering very near her ears.

“Maybe we should let her sleep.”

“But this is important!”

“Stop shoving me, Chippy! You almost pushed me right off!”

“You shoved me first, Ratty, old boy—”

“Quiet, everyone! She's coming around!”

Emmy opened her eyes and swallowed a scream. Three chipmunks and two rats were gathered on her chest, staring earnestly into her face.

“I wish you'd knock like everyone else,” Emmy said, grumpy at being startled.

“But, dear, we came in the window,” said a motherly-looking chipmunk. “You would never have heard us knocking on the sill, not in your sleep.”

Emmy had to admit that Mrs. Bunjee had a point. She struggled to her elbows, the rodents pitching on the blanket like small, furry boats in an ocean swell. “What's so important you had to wake me up?”

There was an unintelligible babble of rodent voices, all trying to outsqueak the rest. Emmy rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and looked at them all—Mrs. Bunjee and her two sons, and Raston Rat who was Emmy's first rodent friend, and his twin sister—and tried to feel happy that she had so many rodents in her life. She partly succeeded.

“It's about Miss Barmy—”

“No, it's about the sticky-patches!”

“—there's a warrant out for her arrest—”

“But the professor needs Emmy right
away
—”

“What's that awful,
minty
smell?”

“One at a time!” Mrs. Bunjee's voice was commanding. “Buck, you and Chippy go first.”

“Chippy
always
goes first,” muttered the Rat.

The wiry chipmunk ignored him, opening a small satchel to pull out a rolled-up piece of paper. Buck grabbed the other side to keep it flat.

Emmy leaned in to get a better view. “Wanted,” she read slowly. “For crimes of robbery and fraud. Miss Jane Barmy and Cheswick Vole. Last seen running in the direction of Main Street.”

She looked at the drawing of two rats, side by side. One had piebald fur—mixed patches of brown, tan, and white—and was wearing a formal gown in a striking diagonal pattern. The other had black fur and was wearing a tuxedo. Underneath the picture it said, “Cheswick Vole, one-time assistant to Professor Maxwell Capybara, shrank his employer and kidnapped over a hundred rodents before joining forces with Jane Barmy, nanny and kidnapper …” Emmy stopped reading when the print got too small.

“We're going to bring those rats to justice,” said Buck. “Will you let us put up a poster by the mouse-hole in your playroom?”

“The one by the electric train,” added Chippy with a longing look back at the playroom door.

Emmy grinned. “Sure, put up as many as you want. That drawing really looked like them!”


Sissy
did the drawing,” said Raston, flinging a furry arm over Cecilia's shoulders as Buck and Chippy scampered off to the playroom.

“Seriously?” Emmy looked in surprise at the shy little rat. “You're good! Where did you learn to draw?”

Cecilia blushed beneath her fur. “When I lived in a cage, I used to practice drawing in the sawdust all the time.”

“Cecilia, you're an artist!” Mrs. Bunjee clapped her paws. “Your mother would be so proud!”

Sissy's whiskers drooped.

“Mommy …” Raston began, his voice failing. He swallowed hard. “I'm sure Ratmommy
would
be proud, if only—”

He stopped, cleared his throat, and tried again. “If only she was a … a …”

Cecilia patted his cheek.

“If only she was
alive
!” the Rat wailed, and broke down entirely, sobbing on his sister's shoulder.

“Now, now,” said Mrs. Bunjee, dabbing at his eyes with her handkerchief. “Your dear mother is probably alive and well and living in the same old neighborhood. How well I remember it … lovely big tree roots, right at the river's edge …”

The Rat snuffled a little. “Really? You think she's still there?”

“I don't see why not. Just because you two were snatched from the nest as little ratlings, doesn't mean that
she
left. Someday you may even see her again. And in the meantime, I'll say it again—she would be proud.”

“She would be proud of Rasty,” said Cecilia, trying to smile. “He's the educated one.”

Emmy reached out a gentle finger to stroke Sissy's paw. Raston had been a classroom pet for years and had gotten a good elementary education. But Cecilia had been locked in the back room of a shop ever since she'd been taken from the nest and had never learned to read, a fact which embarrassed her terribly.

“She'd be proud of us both,” said the Rat loyally. “Oh, Ratmom, noblest of rodents, we never appreciated you
enough
…”

“Now, Raston,” said Mrs. Bunjee, patting him briskly, “stop brooding. Didn't you want to tell Emmy about the sticky-patches?”

The Rat wiped his nose with his paw. “They're
Sissy
sticky-patches. You tell her, Sissy.”

Cecilia hesitated. “I can't explain the scientific terms,” she said. “Maybe we should just show her.” She unbuckled a cotton satchel on her back and pulled out a square the size of a small postage stamp, only thicker. “Go ahead, Rasty—shrink her.”

Emmy glanced worriedly at her door. What if her parents or the maid came to wake her up? They wouldn't know what to do if they came in and she was the size of an action figure. “Wait!”

But it was too late. Raston had already given her finger a nip with his front teeth. And just as quickly as that, the old telescoping feeling came over her—as if she were being shut up into a very small suitcase—and Emmy shrank. She dwindled down to rat size right on top of the bed, pajamas and all. The blanket loomed above her like a fluffy blue mountain.

Emmy sighed, looking down at her legs the size of chalk sticks. Sometimes she wished she didn't know so many rodents of power. It was interesting, of course, but often inconvenient. Like now, for example.

“Listen, Sissy,” she said, looking up into Cecilia's gray, furry face. “What ever you wanted to show me has got to wait. Just kiss me on the cheek so I can grow again. Somebody is going to come to wake me any minute now.”

“But that's just it! Now I don't
have
to kiss you to make you grow!” Cecilia held up the tiny square patch.

“What's that—” Emmy began, but she was interrupted by a crackle of static and then her mother's voice on the intercom.

“Emmy? Are you up yet?”

Emmy stared up at the intercom, high on the wall. To answer, she had to flick a switch on the speaker panel. But the size she was right now, the button might as well be on the ceiling.

“Hurry!” she whispered to Sissy.

Sissy nodded. “Here, pull off the backing. Now we slap it on your arm—no, roll up your pajama sleeve, it has to touch your skin. That's right. And—see?”

The rodents tumbled off the bed as, all at once, Emmy expanded. Like a dried-up sponge exposed to water, she lengthened and thickened and popped back to her full size in three seconds flat.

Emmy shut her eyes and leaned back on her pillow, feeling dizzy.

“Packs a wallop, doesn't it?” Raston helped Sissy buckle on her satchel again. “But that was the last one, and the professor wants you to help make the next batch. He's still experimenting.”

Emmy opened her eyes. “You put an
experimental
patch on me?”

The rodents exchanged glances.

“Sorry, Emmy—”


We're
used to being experimented on—”

“Are you all right, dear?” Mrs. Bunjee's chipmunk fur tickled Emmy's ear. “The professor will wait if you're feeling ill.”

“I don't think the patches grow people as gently as my kiss does,” said Cecilia, patting Emmy's forehead.

“That's not
your
fault,” said Raston quickly.

“Hush!” Mrs. Bunjee lifted a paw. “Listen!”

A thin, droning sound came from the playroom. Emmy relaxed. “It's just the train. Chippy must have talked Buck into going for a ride—”

“Not that,” said Mrs. Bunjee, cocking her head.

In the silence, voices could be heard murmuring in the hall.

“Get under the blankets!” Mrs. Bunjee ordered. “Hide!”

Someone knocked, and the doorknob turned. “Sweetheart? Time to get up … oh,
Emmy
.”

Emmy sat up in bed, rubbing her eyes for effect, and looked at her mother's disappointed face. “Mom? What's wrong?”

“Just look at your room!” Her father's voice, normally so kind, was stern as he flicked on the light. “You promised us you'd clean it last night!”

“But I
did
…” Emmy's voice faltered as she looked properly around her for the first time that morning.

Clothes were everywhere: strewn on the floor, tossed over chairs, and pulled off hangers. Books were tumbled about, pages bent. And papers from last year's school projects had been pulled out of folders and crumpled in corners.

Emmy whirled to face her parents. She had cleaned her room, she really
had
! But they'd never believe her, not with the way it looked now.

Or had she only dreamed that she had picked everything up?

But no. Even when she let her room get messy, it was never as bad as this. “I did clean it,” she said. “I don't know what happened, but it was clean when I went to bed last night.”

Her mother turned away. In the silence, the metallic hum from the playroom seemed to grow louder.

The lines in her father's face grew even more forbidding. “Turn off your electric train. You left it running all night long.”

Emmy looked at him hopelessly. She could hardly say that two chipmunks were to blame.

At least with the train, she knew
why
it was running. But she had no idea how her room had gotten in such a mess.

“Meeoow?”
A golden furry head poked in the door, and the housekeeper's cat slipped around Mr. Addison's legs.

“No, Muffy!” Emmy leaped out of bed, snagged the cat by the hind legs, and imprisoned it in her arms. She wasn't about to let the cat loose in a room full of her rodent friends.

She stumbled to her playroom and flicked the train switch. Chippy and Buck were already out of sight.

“And what smells so strongly of mint?” Her mother's footsteps sounded on the bathroom tile. “Oh,
no
.”

She turned, hands on her hips. “Emmy, we may have a housekeeper and maids now, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't clean up after yourself when you make a mess.”

“I didn't spill it!” said Emmy. “Really, I didn't!”

“You had better stop saying things you know aren't true,” her father said heavily. “You've been doing too much of that lately. Now get dressed and clean up your room, Emmy. Immediately.”

BOOK: Emmy and the Rats in the Belfry
4.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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