The Rat Boy by Shari L. Klase
Illustrated by Sue Babcock
Benjy peeked out from the crack in the wall. He knew he had to be careful now because the family had recently acquired a cat. The cat was fat and silky and always hungry. Before the cat, Benjy’s life had been uncomplicated, well, aside from the fact that two members of his family had been caught in a trap.
Benjy shivered because he had seen the trap snap. He had just been small. Of course, he was small now. Mice are small, but he was practically a baby then. If he hadn’t seen the trap snap and his sister flipped over, he would have never known that delicious food on wooden blocks was to be avoided.
But he was smart now. So traps were no threat to him. There was plenty of other food the human family left around, the house food that fell to the floor. His mom said that food was called free and clear. He could take all he wanted. The other food, wrapped up, was called bought and paid for. He could only nibble that and make it quick. The family got very angry when they found evidence of mice in their food.
If it hadn't been for his greedy brother, Jeffrey, who had to eat too much bought and paid for, there would have been no Roscoe. Roscoe was a very dangerous, mouse-killing cat. So Benjy peered out of his den cautiously before he set out for the night. When he was sure it was safe, he took off like a rocket, speeding along well traveled paths. These paths were frequented by his mom and dad and his remaining siblings.
If only today he had paid more attention. He might have been able to save her. The her he wanted to save was Veronica. Veronica was a sweet and very agreeable girl mouse, who often twitched her whiskers at him. But mom and dad always said “Look out for number one!” That was what he was doing when he scurried as fast as lightning across the floor to the seed store.
Chirpy and Cheerio were settled down for the night. All day they had scattered their seeds from their cage while they ate. The seeds had fallen soundlessly to the floor, free and clear. Every night when he was sure it was safe; he rushed in and began devouring them.
That night, while keeping one eye out for Roscoe and one eye on the food, he noticed Veronica on the opposite side of the wall. She was gobbling seeds, too. Veronica smiled at him. He thought he should tell her, “Hug the wall,” but it did seem safe. He always stayed close to the wall himself. Then he saw the gleaming of the cat’s eyes.
He began to squeak out, “Veronica!” but it was too late! A paw swatted her. She yelped. Benjy stood frozen in time as Veronica was thrown into the air. Then his dad grabbed him and whisked him away to their den, safe and sound.
Tears came to his eyes as his mom tucked him into their little nest of feathers and fluff.
“But what about Veronica?” he asked pitifully.
“Shush,” his mother said. “You are safe. That is all that matters.” Then he was asleep.
In what seemed a moment, Benjy woke up.
“Time for school,” his mother yelled.
Benjy was sitting up in bed. He was breathing hard and his eyes were wet.
“What’s the matter with you?” Edgar, his older brother, asked. “You didn’t have that dream again?”
Benjy wiped his eyes in embarrassment. “I told you. It’s not a dream. It’s like another life. Every night it’s the same.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Edgar replied. “And in this dream, you’re a mouse and Roscoe always tries to eat you.”
“Don’t laugh. He got Veronica last night.”
“Veronica? That girl mouse you have crush on in your dream? Man, you are sick!” Edgar rolled his eyes.
Benjy jumped up and grabbed some clothes. “I know. I know. But it seems so real.”
As he sat at the breakfast table, Benjy kept eyeing Roscoe. Roscoe was sitting, smiling at him lazily on the table.
“Get that cat off the table,” his mom ordered.
Benjy obediently lifted Roscoe off and put him on the floor.
“Did Roscoe catch any mice last night?” Benjy asked, swallowing hard.
“That’s what we got him for,” his mom answered absently.
Benjy hesitated. “Yeah, but did he catch one last night?”
“As a matter of fact, he did.”
She pointed to the trash where a brown mouse lay still and cold. Benjy broke into a cold sweat. He felt sick as he stared at the mouse. What was the matter with him anyway?
“You better get to school, nut job,” Edgar reminded him.
Benjy grabbed his books and ran out the door, trying to forget a certain mouse in the trash can.
When he got to school, he couldn’t concentrate all morning. He was bad at math, and he stumbled over words when he was reading out loud. He could tell Mrs. Sharp was disappointed in him.
At noon, he went off to lunch with his best friend, Tim, his head hanging down. Benjy played with his food while Tim ate voraciously.
“What do you got?” Tim asked curiously, wolfing down a ham sandwich.
“Cheese sandwich,” Benjy said, without thinking. He tore it into little pieces before popping it into his mouth.
“Hey, what’s up with you? You’ve been doing dumb things all morning.”
“Veronica died!” he croaked out.
“Veronica,” Benjy repeated. “The girl mouse.”
Tim looked at him funny. “You know you’re crazy! Nobody else I know has a dream world where they’re a rat.”
Benjy glared at him. “I’m not a rat. I’m a mouse, and it’s not a dream.”
“Yeah, I know and your cat’s in the dream,” Tim smirked, rolling his eyes.
“Yeah, and sometimes my mom and dad, too, and my brother.”
“Did you ever run into yourself coming around the corner?” Tim laughed.
“No!” Benjy snorted angrily.
“That’s good!” Tim replied. “Because then you’d really be bonkers.”
Benjy swept his brown bag aside. “Can I help it if I’m a boy who dreams he’s a mouse?”
Tim stared at him and then guffawed. “Hey! Maybe you’re really a mouse who dreams he’s a boy!”
“Very funny!” Benjy shouted. But kids were looking at him now and he shut up.
The rest of the day he kept wondering about what Tim said. Was he a boy who dreamed he was a mouse or a mouse who dreamed he was a boy? When he went to bed that night, he was more uneasy than ever.
“Good night, rat boy!” Edgar told him.
Benjy ignored him. He covered up and tried not to sleep. But the next thing he knew he was waking up in his den with his parents smiling at him, their ears quivering in joy.
“Wake up sleepy head,” his mom said happily. “We have a surprise for you.”
He woke wide awake and glanced around. There was Veronica, safe and sound! His heart jumped.
“But how?” he asked. “I saw her in the trash can.”
Veronica looked away. “That was Celia. She was so brave. She jumped out to save me.”
“Your sister! I’m so sorry, Veronica!” Benjy’s mom said. “But at least you are safe,”
Benjy stared at her in relief. “I’m glad you’re still here,” he said quietly.
It was then that he realized that he didn’t care whether he was a mouse or a boy. Either way he had a family who loved him, and a special friend who hadn’t been eaten by a cat.
Author Bio: Shari L Klase is a writer and poet, who loves to write stories for children. She has been published in Stories for Children Magazine, The Kids Ark, and Guardian Angel Kids. Writing is not a hobby for her. It is seen as a gift and a passion.
Illustrator Bio: Sue Babcock is the Director of Kids’Magination, the managing editor or Liquid Imagination (www.liquid-imagination.com), and the fiction editor for Silver Blade (www.silverblade.net).